“Gee, I hope it didn’t hurt too much when I killed you, Mister Wabbit.”
The voice ripples through the empty apartment; filling the space as an alarm would, each following silence feeling like it rings. There are few other sounds to compete. The sound of a clock with a decaying battery: more like a tut… tut… than a tick, tick. The slightest rubbing sound as the curtains inch against the wall. The window is cracked open a thumb’s length.
“I hope you can hewp me mister game warden,” the television says, and the shadows on the walls move like swimmers.
In the kitchen are bare countertops with no crumbs or dirty dishes. On the fridge, nothing of personal note. A newspaper clipping fixed with yellowing tape advertises a sale on sofas. A printed notice warns of preventative maintenance, scheduled for December 9th, 2063.
And in the next room, a portion of a sofa can be seen. Not the same sofa in the advertisement, mind you, but a comfortable and weathered one. No one is sitting on the sofa. There are no cups on the table. Only the items which would have proven most cumbersome to move have been allowed to stay. Important items; still, like the lamp with the hand-painted shade, but in a rush even these must be sacrificed.
The television with its garish colors is a forgotten detail. It has been playing old cartoons for a number of days. The cartoon imagines and re-imagines a caricature of a chase: the stumpy old hunter with the little legs, and the quick-witted rabbit who outsmarts him. And in this moment; we see that the rabbit has not been killed at all- it is bounding away from the useless instrument which is the old man’s musket.
Retreating from the living room brings one towards the doorway. There are no shoes lined up on the mat, although a hint of muddy bootprints remains; hastily scrubbed.
It’s funny, the preparation which a man can put into his own departure.
Knowing that you were to die; why wipe the countertops? Why clear the dishes from the TV room, wash them, and place them back onto shelves? Knowing that no one in particular will care to inherit it, why pack the silver bowl into papers and carry it away? And why, during a quick but thorough exit, would the television have been left on?
These details fall upon an array of curious eyes, which peer from a spot just past the doorframe, swiveling about but never daring to venture inside. No one has thought to find the remote and silence the parade of re-runs. Perhaps they can’t be blamed for being a little afraid, considering the circumstances of his death.
The thought is enough to make the blood run cold, although no one could ever admit it. All it takes is three nominations, and then the laborious process can begin.
There are reviews, and letters, and juries. There is an entire period of observation which is broadcast to the parties involved. There are random checks and independent verifications, and finally, many forms which require many notarized signatures. Perhaps they make the process so drawn out because they hope the applicants will lose heart. But it’s been rare to start this without finishing.
Most commonly it happens to abusive fathers. When he has three children or more, it’s easy. The siblings weigh the pros and cons as a united front: debating the morality, the costliness, the logistics. And should they decide to nominate their father for death, they have each other to lean on during the process. One feels bad for the girls who nominate their rapists. There have been cases where a disgruntled roommate had to be found, or a bitter ex lover, or the cop who originally booked him. To sign these papers in the company of strangers must be burdensome.
And at the end of the day, it’s not their immortal souls which the applicants are concerned with. It’s not murder, after all. There are no electrical chairs or needles full of slow-acting compounds. There could never be a firing squad, no, the law is not meant to be regressive. Once the deceased is notified, they have twelve hours to pack, and arrive at the government to be handled.
It’s commonly believed that while death is the name it’s been given, the result is more of a relocation. It is known, quantitatively, that the deceased’s absence will be better for everyone. Children can begin to forget the guilt and shame involved in ignoring their long-condemned parents, and victims can live without the fear of meeting their abusers around every corner. It’s been guessed that the government owns an island in the far east that’s been remodeled for this purpose. Of course, the mechanics are not the public’s business. But why else would the deceased be allowed to bring along their belongings? Regardless, the process is thorough. There are no tricks or illusions, no way to evade the result. No one has ever been reported to be seen again, after.
Soon this man’s assets will be liquified and donated to the charity of the applicants’ choice. But knowing nothing about him, it is fun to peer into his doorway, trying to pick apart the reason why he was not wanted. There are more than one set of eyes. Word has spread and the neighbors have been offering coffee. It’s a bit tasteless- one of them tried to charge.
The people at the doorway look at his sofa, his refrigerator, his hand-painted lampshade. They try not to find anything to which they relate. They watch the rabbit running, and think of cartoons with disdain.