BQB NOTE: Hey 3.5 readers. I’m thinking about getting into the short story market. My thought is I could occasionally self-publish a short story, around 10-20,000 words and when I have enough of them, package them as a book. I’m not sold on the idea because I have found that whether short or long, it takes me at least a year to self publish anything.
But anyway, I rattled this first part out yesterday and I was quite pleased with it so far. Let me know what you think. It takes place in a world where a comedy has perfected the art of bringing people back to life so much that they have franchises on every corner like they are fast food joints, teenagers being paid minimum wage to bring back the dead….and of course, all the ethical dilemmas that ensue.
In the span of a mere five years, the process of resurrecting a deceased human being went from a very complicated procedure that could only be performed by the renowned Nobel prize winning physicist, Dr. Elijah Benjamin to a rather simple set of tasks that could be performed during an after school shift by a high school senior earning minimum wage. Resurrection Inc. franchises had popped up on virtually every street corner in America and while Benjamin enjoyed the fruits of his labor on a beach in Malibu, the Wall Street jackals he appointed to control his life’s work were aggressively pushing into Europe and Asia, yearning to dominate the global back from the dead market before the numerous upstart rivals seeking to patent their own life restoration techniques could get off the ground.
At one such franchise location, seventeen-year-old Liam Tate gnawed on the end of a lengthy licorice rope, playing a game on his cell phone as the office television blared in the background. In truth, the lad had the attention span of a fruit fly, and as such, he had been fired from part-time gigs as a fast food joint cook, big box store stock boy and movie theater usher. Ironically, the position of junior resurrection associate was a lot easier. Just listen to the AI voice emanating from the B.A.D.S. or “Benjamin Automatic Death Stopper,” the large, boxy machine in the center of the lab and do as it said.
Ding! “Insert DNA sample now.”
Liam ignored the request, too engrossed in beating his high score to earn his meager paycheck. No worries. The B.A.D.S provided a prompt reminder.
Ding! “Insert DNA sample now.”
Liam unleashed an uproarious sigh, as though taking a moment to do his job was going to literally kill him, not that such an event even mattered anymore. In fact, homicides had reached an all time high in the free world, largely due to murder parties in which unruly young folk would schedule their resurrections in advance, and then have a wild, carefree time chasing each other around their dormitories with knives, hatchets, military grade weaponry and the occasional chainsaw.
Ding! “Insert DNA sample now.”
“Alright, alright,” Liam mumbled. The kid stepped over to a filing cabinet and pawed through a series of manilla envelopes. “Who’s up next?”
Ding! “Harper, Mary Ann. Age 18. Passed March, 10, 2085. Cause of death – collision caused by distracted driving.”
Liam located an envelope with Harper’s details scrawled across the front. He reached in, fished out a pink toothbrush, then pushed a green button on the side of the B.A.D.S. A metal tray popped out of the contraption. The toothbrush was inserted, the tray was retracted, and various lights flashed as the machine made a humming sound.
Ding! “Printing body now.”
Liam looked at an invoice, then gazed at one of many screens attached to the B.A.D.S. This one displayed the schematics for a young human female.
“B.A.D.S.?” Liam said.
“Looks like the family paid for the upgraded package.”
Ding! “All upgraded packages are to be entered prior to…”
The kid flipped one page of the invoice, then another, studying it intently. “Another botch job at the call routing center. Mr. Harper’s credit card didn’t go through but he called back and put it on his debit and…yeah, right here. Those dummies forgot to log the upgrade.”
Ding! “Implementing upgrade package now.”
Liam tried not to stare as the female form on screen grew in breast size and declined in waist size, but stare he did. Various blemishes and flaws were erased as Mary Ann’s new body went from ho hum to hot-cha-cha.
Ding! “Isolating consciousness from the beyond realm now.”
“Soul” was a word that Dr. Benjamin never liked using. How he cracked the code that allowed B.A.D.S. to extract the set of beliefs, memories, attitudes and quirks that comprised one’s state of being from a metaphysical dimension that could not be seen or touched was proprietary information that he heavily guarded, refusing to share it with religious leaders despite their numerous pleas and lawsuits.
Liam sat down and grabbed a remote control. He flipped through the channels on the office television. First up was a news channel where a debate between two pundits was underway.
“Look, I’m not knocking the guy, but the Constitution is very clear on this. Two terms and that’s it.”
“But the Twenty Second Amendment wasn’t in effect while…”
“That doesn’t matter. It’s in effect now.”
“He never finished his second term.”
“But he was elected twice and that’s all you get.”
“Are we sure about that? I don’t think the Supreme Court has definitively weighed in on…”
“Sarah, don’t you think we’re putting the cart before the horse? I love Abe as much as the next guy but he hasn’t even expressed in running again. Did you read his new book?”
“I Preserved the Union for This? Yes, it’s topping the bestseller lists and making the third coming of Jeff Bezos a ton of scratch. I, for one, was fascinated to learn that Abe and Mary Todd have decided to see other people, but even so, you can’t discount the possibility that…”
Flip! Liam was now watching a game show. The host held a blue card in hand as he addressed the camera from behind a podium.
“Welcome back to Canoodling for Cash, the only game show where celebrities are subjected to all sorts of madcap, wacky shenanigans, all in the name of raising money for charity. Boy, oh boy, if you’re just tuning in, you missed a heck of a spectacle as Marilyn Monroe dominated all challengers in the raspberry gelatin wrestling competition. Norman Mailer, Sir Winston Churchill and Shaka Zulu are backstage, picking little bits of that super slippery low-calorie desert treat out of their nether regions as we speak. Coming up in the next hour, Biggie and Tupac are going to settle their differences in a best two out of three rock, paper scissors competition but first, who is the best piano player to ever tickle the ivories? Liberace and Beethoven are about to square off, so don’t touch that…”
Flip! Liam watched an infomercial featuring a man with a stern face and slicked back hair.
“Hello. I’m Jimmy Hoffa and it turns out I was in the last place everyone thought to look. You might know me from days as an infamous labor leader or my alleged and totally unproven ties to organized crime, but today I’m here to promote a new venture. Operators are standing by to help you order your very own Jimmy Hoffa Brand Convection Oven, the last kitchen appliance you’ll ever need to cook a plump, juicy, moist…”
Flip! Another news channel. Two more pundits.
“I’m sorry, but there are certain people who should just never be allowed to come back.”
“That’s not your decision to make. Two years ago, the Constitution was amended to declare resurrection an inalienable human right.”
“Monica, you insufferable cow, are you really going to sit there and tell me that Hitler’s existence is a benefit to society?”
“Of course not, Steve, but he’s not hurting anyone, is he?”
Liam watched as footage rolled of Adolf Hitler in an orange vest, holding up a stop sign in front of busy intersection as he blew a whistle and waved a gaggle of schoolchildren through a crosswalk. An irate mother sipping from a coffee cup blared on her horn.
“Come on, Hitler! You’re slower than molasses!”
Hitler’s face went red and spittle sprayed from his lips as he wagged his finger through the air. His hair flopped about as he screamed at the driver. “Nein, Fraulein Hotchkiss! You vill vait patiently in your Subaru Outback for as long as it takes for das kinder to crosszen zie streetzen! You vill shutzen your mouthzen and drinken zie delicious frappucino beverage while I do mein job for the glory of the father land and forge a new reich of crosswalk safety that vill last a thousand years!”
The pundits returned to the screen.
“It looks like he’s learned the error of his ways and is trying to become a productive member of society.”
“Monica, I’ll never be able to get used to…”
“Well, get used to it, Steve, because once Congress passes the Affordable Resurrection Act…”
“You mean my tax dollars will go to bringing history’s greatest assholes back to life?”
“Everyone has a right to live again, Steve, even those whose descendants have either forgotten or don’t care about them, or who can’t foot the bill for…”
Flip! Another news channel.
“The last funeral home went out of business today. I took a moment to speak to ex-Funeral Director Martin Sinclair of this now defunct Sheboygan, Wisconsin establishment, and he informed me that people just aren’t willing to splurge for send-offs for their loved ones anymore, not when those loved ones are expected to return within seven to ten business days. Like many of his colleagues, Sinclair intends to roll with the punches and convert his building into a Resurrection, Inc. franchise. Yes, the days when you’d call the undertaker to cart off your dearly departed are long gone, folks. All you need do now when your loved one kicks the bucket is collect a few hair snips, fingernail clippings, and any used toiletries left behind, pack them up in a handy DNA collection kit and mail it to your nearest Resurrection Inc. facility. Police departments across the country are reminding older generations that it is perfectly legal to leave dead bodies at the end of their driveways for curbside pickup. Meanwhile, 50 state legislatures have passed a controversial law that absolves alleged murderers of any and all homicide charges provided that they pay for their victim’s resurrection procedure within 48 hours. Coming up next, I’ll be talking to Ray Goodman, Chairman of the Grave to Save project, a new non-profit initiative that seeks to dig up and bring back the long buried, so that cemeteries can be turned into affordable housing projects.”
Flip! Liam switched off the television and dumped the contents of a brown paper bag on his desk. He decided to save the cheesy chips for later, opting to nosh on his baloney on rye first as he scrolled through the latest headlines on his phone. One caught his eye: “Skydiving Excursions Become the New National Past Time; Smoking, Substance Abuse, Overeating and Reckless, Indiscriminate, Unprotected Sex with Multiple Partners on the Rise.”
Ding! “Consciousness extracted. Melding body and consciousness now.”
Liam sipped from a juice box as he perused another headline. “Stalin Projected to Win 2086 Democratic Primary. Rival Trotsky Disappears Under Suspicious Circumstances.”
The lad checked his social media profile, laughed at a joke posted by a friend, then clicked on a video that had been shared by several of his contacts. A group of unshaven, unkempt doctors in stained lab coats warmed themselves by a dumpster fire on Skid Row. One doctor blew into a harmonica as he song a sad little ditty:
“I used to fix your headaches,
Your heart and your liver too.
I wrote indecipherable prescriptions,
And hit the golf course before 2.
Oh, I got the out of work doctor!
Out of work doctor blues!
Lord have mercy!
Yes, I got the out of work doctor,
The out of work doctor blues!
Hey, I went to Harvard, people! Yeah!
Oh, from my head down to my shoes,
I got the out of work doctor blues!”
Liam looked up from his phone and took a bite out of his sandwich.
Ding! “Resurrection complete.”
Liam set his lunch and phone down, stood up, and approached the machine. He turned a crank and steam poured out of a nearby valve. Once it dissipated, Liam grabbed two handles, one and in each hand and pulled out an elongated slab about which laid the newly returned customer…naked as the day God, or well, in this case, as an eighteen year old who was getting a C- in Civics had made her.
The boy tried not to stare, but stare he did.
The resurrected’s eyes popped open. She took a deep breath, then exhaled. She then sat up and screamed wildly. “Arrrrrrrggggghhhhh!”
Liam held his hand out in front of Mary Ann’s eyes and snapped his fingers. He then moved his fingers to the right. Mary Ann’s eyes followed. He snapped and moved his fingers back to the left. Her eyes followed.
The boy scribbled some notes on a clipboard as he mumbled to himself. “Motor skills test passed.”
Liam recited a tongue twister. “Rubby baby buggy bumpers.”
Mary Ann remained silent and confused.
“Repeat after me,” Liam said.
“Pootie tay,” Mary Ann replied. “Pootie tay tay regaldo malan fraz, mimbo bibby?”
“Rubber baby buggy bumpers.”
“Pootie tay tay tay zeebo zeebo zeebo glarf.”
“Rubber baby buggy bumpers.”
“Rubber pootie tay tay…”
Liam shook his head. “No pootie tay. Rubber baby…”
“Yes, that’s it. Rubber baby buggy…”
“Rubber baby buggy…”
“Rubber baby buggy bumpers.”
“Rubber baby buggy pootie tay tay tay…”
Liam slapped his forehead. Mary Ann followed suit and slapped her forehead.
“Rubber baby buggy bumpers.”
Mary Ann nodded. “Rubber baby buggy bumpers.”
“Good,” Liam said as he jotted more notes. “Subject was slow to pass speech test but eventually got there.”
“I got there pootie tay blimmel rabba mmmmmm’wippo!”
Liam read from a prepared statement. “Your name is Mary Ann Harper. You were born in the year 2067. Your parents are Dave and Karen Harper. Your father is a prominent tax attorney and your mother recently quit her position as a public relationship specialist to start her own online designer soap business, which your father griped about at first but is now onboard ever since it started making money. You have a younger sister, Molly, and a dog, Mr. Scruffles. Your favorite color is purple and you enjoy the musical stylings of the Melancholy Trio. Your best friend is Susan Kinitsky. Last year, you and Susan were suspended from school for three days when you were caught buttering up a ham with…”
Mary Ann shook her head to the left, then the right. Left, then right. She sat up. “Liam?”
“Uh…yeah. Who else would it be?”
“No more pootie tays?”
“No. What’s a pootie tay?”
Mary Ann was dressed in a surgical gown and standing upright now, looking at her gorgeous new body in a full-length mirror.
“Damn,” the girl said as she made a pouty fish face and threw up a peace sign. “If Tommy Miller doesn’t full on jump my bones now then it’s never going to happen.”
Liam hung back. He cleared his throat with a cough in his hand. “So, you’re uh…satisfied with the work?”
“Yes,” Mary Ann said. “It’s amazing…it’s…it’s…like you kept the best parts of me and replaced the worst parts with better parts.”
Mary Ann looked down at her newly ample bosom. “Way better parts.”
Liam jotted more notes down.
“I didn’t know you worked here, Lee-Dubs.”
“Yeah,” Liam said. “About a month now. You know, Mary, you really shouldn’t…”
“Text while you’re driving.”
Mary Ann turned around and faced her classmate. She broke out into laughter. “What? Is that what the cops said?”
“As if,” Mary Ann said as she turned her gaze back to the mirror, running her hands through her long, full blonde hair. Previously, her locks had been a drab shade of brown and quite stringy. “You know how many times I asked my dad if he’d hook me up with the upgrade package if I killed myself? You know how many times he said no, that there was too much risk involved?”
“So, it wasn’t an accident?”
“Duh. I straight up rammed that wall.”
“Morbid,” Liam said. “But I’ve seen too much here to judge. Can you answer some feedback questions for me?”
“On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being least happy and 10 being most happy, what number would you assign to your new vessel?”
“Ah,” Mary Ann said. She pulled her upper lip out and checked her teeth. Perfectly straight for the first time in her life. “Nine…maybe nine and a…well…hmm…”
Liam looked up from his notes. “Hmm?”
Liam stepped closer and stood over the subject’s shoulder. “What about it?”
“It’s a little big, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m not saying it looks terrible. I just…aw, crap. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“It’s fine,” Liam said. “Resurrection Inc. encourages feedback. That’s what the survey questions are for.”
“Yeah,” Mary Ann said as she tapped the tip of her pointer finger against her nose. “All I’m saying is that if it were, say, the teeniest, tiniest millimeter smaller, I’d give this thing a 10.”
“It would be gross to go again, wouldn’t it?”
“It’s up to you.”
Mary Ann clicked her tongue. “I mean, nothing’s perfect.”
“Perfect is in the eye of the beholder.”
“This is great as it is now,” Mary Ann says. “I go again and it could get worse.”
“You have unlimited do-overs,” Liam said.
“All part of the upgraded package.”
Mary Ann flashed a wicked grin. “That dad of mine. What a guy.”
“You called his bluff.”
The subject shrugged her shoulders. “What the hell? In for a penny and so on. How do we do it?”
Liam cleared his throat. His cheeks flushed. “I…you know, this is the first time I’ve resurrected someone I know.”
“Yeah,” Liam said. “There’s a company policy against employees resurrecting their own family members but it doesn’t say anything about friends. I’m wondering if maybe I should have assigned your case to another…”
“You did fine, Lee-Dubs.”
“Anyway,” Liam said. “There’s a problem with the sleep cocktail.”
“The mixture of drugs we usually use to inject the resurrected with when they aren’t happy with their vessels and want to start the process over again.”
Mary Ann raised a quizzical eyebrow. “Sleep’s a euphemism, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Liam said. “The board of directors of the company that makes it believes it is immoral for Resurrection Inc. to use it over slight defects in a new body. They won’t sell it to us anymore. There’s a big lawsuit going on. No one tells me anything though because I’m just an underling. All I know is what I heard on the news.”
“So, without the drugs, how do we…”
Liam opened a nearby desk drawer and pulled out a lock box. He punched in a code and pulled out a large, shiny .45 Magnum revolver.
Mary Ann’s newly blue, formerly hazel eyes widened. “Holy shit.”
“Yeah,” Liam said. “Listen, I hate to ask this…”
“I mean, I’m supposed to…be professional but…”
A single tear rolled down Liam’s cheek as he sniffed snots of sadness up his nose. “Don’t make me do it, Mary Ann. We had play dates and made pillow forts while our moms baked cookies and…”
Mary Ann looked at the weapon. “You want me to…”
“If you wouldn’t mind.”
The classmates were quiet for a moment.
“I mean, your dad paid for the upgrade package,” Liam said. “So, if you want me to do it, I’ll do it. I do this like a dozen times a week, no problem. It’s just a lot easier when it’s people I don’t know.”
Mary Ann winced, then smiled. “I’ll be right back?”
“Like nothing ever happened, right?”
The young woman took a deep breath, then exhaled. “Fine. Hand it over.”