Eternity was in that moment.
– William Congreve
TAKE THE DREAD OUT OF DEAD! SCHEDULE YOUR PRACTICE DYING DAY NOW BY CALLING 1-800-DEAD-DAY. DON’T WAIT UNTIL IT’S TOO LATE, read the huge digital billboard along Route 95 between Boston and Providence.
That catches the eye, thought Clayton Gray with satisfaction. The twenty-nine year old Rhode Island native recorded a reminder into his 9G iPhone (“Order more signs.”) while maintaining a speed a good 20 mph above the posted limit.
His franchise of Dying Day Centers was growing rapidly. Three years ago he had come across an article in the Wall Street Journal that set him on a completely new career path. He had worked at a small law firm up to that time but had been eager to get in on something that might substantially increase his income. Now he owned four Dying Day Centers in southeastern New England and had plans to open more.
Before Clayton had finished reading the Journal article, he was convinced the concept was brilliant. It was something everyone wanted . . . needed. Who wasn’t afraid of dying? He immediately went on Dying Day Center’s website, where the home page repeated his exact sentiment and offered a solution to the universal conundrum:
Afraid of Dying? Most everyone is, but you don’t have to be.
A simple one-day Reorientation session will put you at ease as
you face life’s end. You can remove the horror of the final moments
before departing this world and entering the next . . .
The website continued to enumerate the benefits in eliminating the anxiety associated with dying, promising to make it a fear free, even pleasant, experience:
Be at peace as the end approaches. Enjoy the final moments with
your dearest thoughts instead of being gripped by terror and apprehension.
DDC guarantees a happy ending. Call now to set up your pre-Dying Day
interviews. It will change how you view your own demise . . .
Clayton had excitedly clicked the “Business Opportunities” link and soon found himself contacting the franchise office’s 800 number. Two months later, he opened his first location in Warwick, Rhode Island, and three months after that a second in Barrington. The next two followed quickly. The money started pouring in and plans were in hand to expand into surrounding states.
It’s like the movie Soylent Green, recalled Clayton after he had made first contact with the company. Loving science fiction, it had been one of his favorite films, and the scene in which Edward G. Robinson lays atop his deathbed as his most desired experience is fulfilled, had always stuck with him. What a way to go. Dying while your best thoughts are played out. He had been excited to think that soon he would be a part of a business that offered such a humane service.
The road was nearly empty at 3 AM Sunday morning as he returned from his Casual Connect date. It had turned into much more than a cappuccino at the mutually agreed upon bistro on Charles Street. A night of unharnessed lust left him exhausted but content. He pulled off the highway to find a Dunkin’ Donuts for a large blast of caffeine. It didn’t take long to find one. They seemed to have stores at one-mile intervals. Clayton hoped his Dying Day offices would one day be as ubiquitous. He chuckled at the realization that both businesses shared the same initials.
“No one can be finer, ‘cause my Dinah is a minor, Deedee Dinah,” sang Clayton as he arrived at the drive-up window and placed his order. As he sipped his hot coffee back on the highway, he belted out a variation of the tune. “Nothing could be finer than to be in her vagina in the morning.” How good can life get? he wondered as the Providence skyline came into view. Home for a quick shower and then on to the Warwick center. It was Clayton’s practice to participate in as many reorientation sessions at his various facilities as possible, although he had very capable staff members at each location. It was something of which he took great pride and pleasure in being a part. Relieving clients of their greatest fear made Clayton feel like he was making a great contribution to the human race.
“Can there be any greater profession?” chirped Clayton pulling into his driveway. “No, absolutely not!”
An hour later he reached his headquarters at the Warwick location of Dying Day Centers and was greeted by Carla Harcourt, the receptionist and his personal assistant. She informed him that his first REO (the abbreviation had been inspired by Carla’s favorite rock group—REO Speedwagon) was waiting for him in the Pre-REO suite. After dropping some things off in his office, he greeted the elderly client, who had invested the required $2500 for the procedure.
“Mr. Jenkins. You’ve had your DD interviews and now are ready for your Reorientation. Is that correct?” asked Clayton, warmly.
“Oh, yes. I’m more than ready.”
The two Dying Day interviews involved a lengthy series of questions to determine a client’s greatest fears and joys––in the first instance, something to be avoided, and in the second, something to be fully realized. After compiling a comprehensive profile of the individual, the Center would prepare a digitized virtual experience of what was most precious to the client. During the actual REO session the client would be placed in a sensory deprivation chamber where he or she would remain until acclimated to the absence of stimuli. The DDC termed it Death Simulation. It was intended to create the impression that one was removed from the living world. The oxygen in the chamber would be decreased in prescribed increments to simulate the collapse of the body’s ability to breathe and replenish itself. The client’s heartbeat would be monitored to insure there would be no actual cessation of life. At the peak of the client’s anxiety, the specially created video containing the client’s notion of profound happiness would be rolled. Oxygen would then be fully restored as the client was immersed in his beatific vision. When the client reached what was termed a Bliss Line––as reflected by a very relaxed pulse rate––the video would slowly fade away. A soft, reassuring voice would then repeat––in mantra like fashion––“There was never anything to fear.” REO seldom ran over an hour.
When the chamber door was opened, the client was often found weeping with joy and appreciation. Repeat sessions were available to those who desired them, but for most a single REO was enough to sustain an individual through the balance of his or her life. The service had not been in existence long enough to see if this would actually be the case, but so far only one client had requested a second REO. In the end, he cancelled the session without giving a reason.
Following the day’s first REO session, Clayton had lunch and met with a new client, who looked very familiar to him. Halfway into the first interview, Clayton realized who it was. When he was eight-years old, his third grade teacher, Mr. Houser, had fondled him on two occasions in the cloakroom. Clayton had been too confused and frightened to tell his parents, and then he was saved from further molestations when his parents had switched him to the local Catholic school. Now he sat face-to-face with the pedophile and his heart began to race. He abruptly ended the first meeting, saying that he didn’t feel well. It was either that, or go postal on the man, figured Clayton.
Carla scheduled the client’s second meeting for the next day, while Clayton sat in his office contemplating the encounter. He had always thought about the two shameful incidents with Mr. Houser, but never took any action on the matter, even though he figured his former teacher was still in the area. The more he thought about the childhood incident, the more he wanted to retaliate. Then it came to him. He would give Mr. Houser an REO session he would never forget.
When his long ago teacher appeared for his second meeting, Clayton gathered all the information he felt he would need to execute his revenge.
“So, Mr. Houser, what are the things you fear most in life?” inquired Clayton.
After a long pause, the teacher answered. “Spiders and snakes really freak me out. Even the tiny harmless ones make me feel like fainting.”
Well, we share that in common, thought Clayton.
“What else, Mr. Houser. Try to be specific.”
“Well, let me think. I really don’t fear much. Maybe getting caught . . . ah, for something I really didn’t do.”
“Oh, you know. Being accused of something bad and being put in jail.”
“What might that something bad be, Mr. Houser?”
The gray haired man shifted in his seat, and then waved Clayton off. “Nothing . . . really. Who knows? Can we get on to the next question, please?”
“What other things frighten you?”
“Like I said, I really don’t get scared by much . . . except by spiders and snake,” said Houser, appearing agitated.
“Okay, let’s shift gears to something much more positive. What gives you the most joy in your life?”
“Children. I used to teach grade school. Retired now.”
“Children? How did they give you joy?”
“They’re so sweet and innocent . . . really beautiful. Just looking at them would raise my spirits. I adored them.”
“All right then, what else contributes most to your happiness?” Mr. Houser?
“My Shih Tzu. She’s the real love of my life. I’ve never been married, so my pets mean everything to me. I’ve had four dogs and loved each one dearly.”
“Anything else makes you real happy?”
After several seconds of contemplation, Mr. Houser replied. “Can’t really think of anything else. I mean, that gives me as much pleasure as children and Fifi.”
Following several more routine questions, Clayton said he would schedule Mr. Houser’s REO at 8 PM the next day.
“Oh, you do the sessions in the evening?”
“Only occasionally,” replied Clayton. “But our schedule is so full at the moment, we’re forced to do so.”
“Wonderful. I’ll be here then.”
When Clara asked about scheduling Mr. Houser for his REO, Clayton said the man had decided against having one. Despite what he had told his former teacher, REOs were never scheduled after 5 PM. However, for this customer, Clayton was more than happy to make an exception, and he needed to be alone to initiate his plan.
When the center closed for the day, Clayton went to work in the digital mixing suite. His goal was to prepare a video hologram for Mr. Houser‘s REO session that would be like none he’d ever made before. If Clayton’s plan succeeded, it would increase Mr. Houser’s fear of dying tenfold––and Clayton’s satisfaction at least as much. He worked long into the night gathering images that would horrify Mr. Houser while in the sensory deprivation chamber. They included the most ferocious pictures of spiders and snakes he could find, including several action images of large snakes devouring small dogs. He had even come across a gruesome video of an Anaconda gulping down a Shih Tzu.
After a couple hours of sleep in his office, Clayton continued to refine his hologram for the man who had marred his childhood. Fortunately, his day’s schedule was open, except for one client interview, so he had more than enough time to prepare the special REO. By late afternoon, Clayton had completed a video that he felt would haunt his third grade teacher to his grave.
At the designated hour, Mr. Houser appeared at the Dying Day Center for his REO session.
“So this will really make a difference in my life? I’ve always had nightmares about dying, and if I don’t any longer, it’s going to be wonderful,” said Houser.
“Yes, it will certainly change how you see your death. I can assure you of that,” said Clayton, leading his client to the REO chamber.
Mr. Houser entered the small cubicle with noticeable hesitancy.
“I’m not fond of small spaces.”
“Nothing to worry about. I’ll be monitoring you just outside.”
After Mr. Houser took up his position on the padded catafalque, Clayton attached a series of wires to his temples and chest and then departed the chamber.
“Just relax, Mr. Houser. This will be an unforgettable experience for you. You’ll never think of death in the same way.”
Clayton took up his position at the REO control panel and viewed Mr. Houser through a window and also on monitors connected to an infrared camera in the chamber.
“Happy dying, you fucking pervert,” muttered Clayton, leaning back in his chair.
He allowed for a longer than usual period of “void” time to have it’s affect and then activated the hologram. By that point he had reduced the oxygen level in the chamber by thirty percent causing Mr. Houser to gasp for air. Within moments his erstwhile nemesis, was screaming at the horrific images that enveloped him. Clayton averted his eyes from the scene. It had been all he could take to assemble the footage of snakes and spiders, and he could no longer tolerate the sight of them. He thought it ironic that he and his molester shared the same unique aversions.
Sounds of horror and desperation poured from the REO production room speakers for the next hour. By the time Clayton finally entered the chamber, Mr. Houser had fallen silent.
“Mr. Houser. Your session is over. You have been reoriented.”
When Clayton reached his subject, he believed he had fainted from the horrific sights he’d been subjected to. Maybe he’s dead, thought Clayton in a sudden panic. But then Mr. Houser spoke.
“That was good . . . really good. It has changed my thinking about death just as you promised.”
Clayton was perplexed by Mr. Houser’s response.
“Yes, just what I needed. Now let’s give you something you need.”
His former teacher stood and looked at him across the short expanse of darkness. His eyes cast an eerie glow, causing Clayton to take a step backward. In that instant, Houser lunged at him striking Clayton’s forehead against the wall. The force of it made Clayton fall onto the cushioned recliner. As he did so, he felt the hands of his attacker groping his genitals. Before he could react, he received another powerful blow to this head, which rendered him unconscious. As he sunk into a nightmare state, he heard a hideous, otherworldly cackle.
“It’s time for your Dying Day session, my little third grader,” growled Mr. Houser, leaving the chamber and locking its door.
Before he fled the control room, he pressed the activate switch on the equipment console and saw the chamber come alive with the grisly images that had been assembled for his exclusive benefit.
When Carla returned to work after the long weekend, she discovered her boss’s self-mutilated cold body lying in the REO chamber. On the video monitors was a grainy photograph of Clayton as a happy eight year-old.