A Strange Seeming Peace

A man in a uniform makes me sit in a comfortable chair and begins asking me questions. Arrangements are being made. Paperwork is being filed. Someone waits by a red phone on the wall with the block letter label "GOVERNER".

I tell the man behind the desk, who types into a computer, my name.

I tell him my birthday, I am twenty-one.

I am six feet tall, two hundred forty pounds. Nearsighted. Athsmatic. Had my appendix out at fourteen, two bolts in my left hand from a fight I got in at seventeen.

He speaks into a radio, will the bolts be a problem? The answer comes back "Negative".

Nobody will remind me what I have done to come to this place, how did I earn this trip? I ask everyone, more than once, and they all claim not to know. It's not their job to know. Their job is to record my answers, take down the information, calibrate machinery.

It seems surreal that my executioners are middlemen. Unfair. Anticlimactic.

A man in a uniform, like the first, leads me to another room. No comfortable chairs here, only a thing like a tanning bed, metal and blocky and looking more and more like a sarcophagus every time my eyes flick past it.

I ask the new man what I did, does he know, I can't remember. I am a little surprised at the desperation in my voice.

He tells me, with something like a sad smile, that he doesn't know. But it must have been pretty bad, right?

I agree with my head down.

I notice with surprise that my hands are unbound. They have been, all along, but I've been holding them together and limp out of expectation. How could they allow me to be free? Who knows what things I could commit with these hands, hands that have earned me this room and this fate?

I ask the uniformed man why nobody has put me in cuffs.

He tells me, smiling openly now, nobody expects me to escape. Nobody expects me to even try,

I lay down in the box, amazed to find a pillow there. Once my back relaxes, I am quite comfortable. Strange, to think they'd worry for me this way.

The inside of the box is lined with small holes, perhaps two millimeters wide, thousands of them. An even grid. I saw this in a book, I seem to remember, but I can't recall which book it was.

A technician, he must be, he's wearing a coat, comes into the room and smiles at me. He asks me how I am feeling.

I ask him if it matters, and he nods. Of course, he says, or would you have laid down in that box?

He points out that nobody put me here. I climbed in, almost anxious.

I feel fear, suddenly. It surprises me that I haven't until now.

I ask the men if it will hurt, and they look at each other. Finally, the technician answers me.

"We don't know… but it's very quick."

By the way, the uniformed man asks me, what did you have for your last meal?

I don't remember. Probably a snow cone. They look at me like I'm crazy. It's a joke I heard once, I explain. About a person like me, who didn't understand why he had to die.

Maybe I'm like that person. Maybe it's obvious to everyone else, and I just can't comprehend what they're telling me.

There's a person I need to talk to. I can't remember if she knows about this.

Is it all right if I call someone?

The technician shakes his head, honestly looking sad. I'm not allowed.

I sigh and lean back into the pillow, listening to the machine hum gently. It's relaxing.

I ask them why I'm here. I figure I have nothing to lose by bothering them at this point.

You're here, the uniformed man says, looking puzzled, because you came here. You came into this place and walked into this room and lay in the box. Never taken, never threatened, never chained.

I don't remember.

The technician laughs. You're always saying that, he says. But I assure you, it was entirely your choice to be here today.

The top of the box begins to come down. I see the men shaking their heads, perplexed, before the edges come together and the box seals itself shut.

The hum from the machine around me grows louder, even shaking the box very slightly. In a moment, fire, white-hot, will spray from the perfect grid of tiny holes. In less than a minute I will be ash and a pair of miniscule screws, slightly scorched.

The considerately placed pillow will prove to be fireproof.

Someone will pluck the half-melted titanium bits from the pile of ash before it's disposed of. Someone else will, perhaps comically, examine the dust, a doctor, making sure I'm gone. It's a strange law, but there it is.

Spots of light appear in the countless tiny holes, pilot lights perhaps, and I take a last deep, relaxing breath. There is an empty feeling in my chest where fear belongs, but I know better. Fear is meant to protect us, warn us, help us avoid danger.

There is no avoiding this. No possible escape. No desire to persist. So fear is curiously absent and in its place is a strange peace, perversely like relief.

No more forgetting. No more regret.

No more wondering what I've done wrong and waiting for my punishment.

No more fear. Only peace.

Nobody sees me smile.

Nobody hears me say "Thank you,"

Nobody hears…