79 Fallen Garden

By Martin Dash

It’s natural for humans to be creative. Since the time of our caveman ancestors, we’ve had the urge to set ourselves above each other. So when you’re the 2,347th person that year to kill yourself, there’s an urge to make it unique. After all, it’s anyone’s last act of their life by definition. It’s what Don always feared when he got each call. He was one of the guys who were there to pick up the corpses when people killed themselves.

Thankfully, most people weren't that creative. They quietly overdosed on pills and expired in a corner of their house. The real bummer for Don was that the bodies usually stank. Nobody would notice their deaths for a while— Don supposed that was why these people didn’t care to live anymore. Neighbours would notice a rancid smell wafting over from next door, or somebody would report something they did online had gone quiet. Much more rarely, a family member would report their cousin, sibling or parent missing. The end result is that the body was often in an advanced state of decomposition, and it was Don’s biggest annoyance.

“You and Seth have been assigned to investigate 79 Fallen Garden Crescent.” Don read his orders an hour after he got them. He had felt his phone vibrate and knew it was the Ministry, but he was making lunch and eventually lost track of time. He once mused that it was funny they said “investigate” when nine times out of ten, there would be a dead body. He’d eventually figured they were just erring on the side of caution. But the text still made him edgy. He was paired up with Seth, and a conspiracy-obsessed sociopath was not a person he liked working with.

Seth was already on his way. He pulled up with the work truck in front of his house and Don went out to meet him. In spite of his intense dislike for the man, he always tried to be cordial with Seth, if only so he would shut up. On the way there, it seemed to work. They had a pleasant conversation with Don extolling the virtues of his newly bought meat smoker. But as they neared the street sign for Fallen Garden Crescent, Seth put on a snarly tone that meant he was getting started.

“Alright, let’s scoop up this piece of rot.” Don sighed. Seth had no respect for the dead. He held those who lost their desire to live in utter contempt. It seemed to Don he’d only be satisfied if a person died in battle.

The smell hit them both and they put on their gas masks at the same time. The front door was locked, so they went around back. A young woman was slumped in a computer chair. She’d taken a pill and wine combo which was the favoured tactic of most people, especially women. It meant there was no blood to clean up. The identity of the person was never disclosed to the pickup crew, but it didn’t matter to Don, who’d seen it all.

“What a shame. She should have called me up. I would have totally shown her a good time,” Seth said, punctuating it with a short “ha ha”, an almost cliché scumbag laugh. Don gritted his teeth. All they had to do was pack her into a transfer tube and ship her to the morgue. But he knew the drive would be awful. “I’ll call the Ministry,” said Seth, doubling back.

Don walked over to inspect the body. The only thing illuminating it was the light of a computer screen— another common sight for Don. Her internet browser was full of conspiracy websites, like worldunderfire.org and whattheydontwantyoutoknow.com, each telling of the government’s atrocities. They orchestrated 9/11, they were deliberately funding terrorists, the people who were supposed to run society were all power hungry psychopaths, and Big Brother sees your every move. Don had heard it all before from Seth.

He looked through her computer to make sure that she was the one who lived in the apartment. It was simply a formality to Don. The body they found always belonged to the person who lived in the house. Who would sneak into a house to die? But they always had to make sure. It saved them having to call in a family member to joylessly identify the remains.

Seth walked up behind Don while still on the phone. “Give me a sec— Hey Don, can we identify that the bitch lived here or what?” Don scrolled back to the conspiracy websites, just to wind Seth up.

“Hand me the phone,” Don snatched it out of Seth’s hands before he could say anything. “Hello?”

“Hey Don, it’s Rana. Can you ID the body?”

“Yeah, she’s got a few pictures of herself on a computer that resemble the corpse. It’s still in a state where I can ID it.”

“What was she doing when she died?”

“Oh, she was all over those crazy conspiracy websites.” Don watched Seth as he spoke, noting how uncomfortable he was getting.

“Shit, she could have been Seth’s wife,” Rana said. He knew about Seth. “Anyway, you know the drill.”

“Bye.” Don ended the call. He liked Rana way more than he liked Seth. Rana always sounded sympathetic when talking about the dead, even though he never had to see them. “Seth, I think we’re ready to pack her up.” Seth got up and looked at Don sadly. Don was feeling particularly sadistic, so he decided to have a bit of fun with Seth. “You two were kindred spirits.”

Seth’s face twisted in fury. “Fuck that! She was supposed to join in the fight against institutionalized evil, and she copped out. She can rot in hell for all I care.”

Don was enraged. He couldn’t handle how thoughtless and cruel Seth was being. Not this time.

“Goddamnit, Seth, do you care about anyone? She would—“

“I don’t give a damn about people who give up!”

“Yeah well, she would have been a perfect match for you. Now she’s dead, and all you wanna do is talk shit! She thought about the world the same way you do. It drove her crazy and she killed herself. Who says you won’t do the same?”

“Whatever, D—“ Don interrupted Seth by punching him in the jaw, knocking him over and breaking his gas mask. He stormed out of the house, and left Seth to do the job alone. Seth had always been like this, but today Don just couldn’t deal with it. He had to walk home and he knew he'd be seething the entire way.

Don pulled out his phone and called his best friend to help him calm down. He hadn’t spoken to Josh for a month, but that never mattered. The phone rang twice, and his friend picked up. “Don! What’s goin’ on, man?”

“Josh, I need a ride.” Don said it with a laugh to make it seem like he wasn’t in trouble.

“Sure man, where are you?”

Don told him where he was. They met up and found a bar where they could talk over drinks. Don explained the situation with Seth. They made fun of him for a while, and talked about the rash of suicides that provided Don with work. There was a massive meeting going on in the bar. In an attempt to curb isolation, the government was organizing large social gatherings. The meetings were thought to be only for desperate loners, but people went to them anyway. Don and Josh didn’t think this would stop all the suicides.

They went back to Josh’s place where they could smoke some weed. Don’s phone rang, and it was Seth. He was probably calling to rip Don a new one, and Don knew the call was going to be good. He set it to speakerphone so Josh could hear.

“I’m reporting you, man! What the hell is your problem?” Seth sounded like he was close to tears. It was the first time Don had heard him so upset.

“Seth, you’re a scumbag. I just couldn’t handle your bullshit anymore. Relax.”

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to be the only one who knows the truth about the government? To watch as everything goes to shit? Nobody wants to hear the truth! They just want to be blissfully ignorant!”

Don rolled his eyes while Josh laughed. “Here you go with this crap again, Seth. But that’s not the problem. It’s that you act like an asshole. I couldn’t care less about the conspiracies you go on about.” They started to shout over each other. The conversation began to escalate so Don decided to shut it down. “I’ll deal with you when I’m not stoned out of my mind. Bye, Seth.”

As Don hung up, he looked over at Josh, who’d been snickering in the background. “Think he’s still yelling into the phone?” This made Don laugh, since that was exactly what Seth would be doing.

On their sixth bong hit, Josh’s girlfriend came home from work. It was late then, so Don got up to leave. He and Josh got into the car. When they reached Don’s place, they both stepped out to say their goodbyes.

“It’s always good to see you, dude,” Josh said.

“Yeah. You’re one of the few guys I can talk to about anything.” They both laughed.

“You should quit that job. I don’t want you to get too down.” Josh had said this before.

“I’m good. It’s good money, and you get used to it. And I know you think I’ll kill myself, but I’ll be okay as long as I’ve got friends like you.”

Josh sighed. “Okay. You know all about this stuff. It won’t happen to us.” Josh laughed nervously, as if suicide hung right around the corner, watching.