It was officially the last day of his life.
It had started much like any other day. A quick jog around the park, stopping briefly for his daily chat with that woman with the ugly dog. Back home he had allowed himself an extra few minutes in the shower, he knew it was going to be a hectic day. He’d arranged for Edith, the lady who cleaned for him, to come in especially early. He wanted everywhere to be looking at its best. The caterers were due to arrive late morning. He hoped he’d taken into account the varying dietary needs of his many guests.
Then there was that damn speech. He wasn’t looking forward to that bit of the proceedings at all. Public speaking had never been a strength of his. He’d been over the thing a hundred times but was still frightened he may have inadvertently missed someone off the list of people he needed to thank.
As soon as the speech was over he’d have a short time to mingle. A few last goodbyes to some of his closest friends, then it would be time to leave. The company he’d hired to carry out the task had come highly recommended and prided themselves on being discreet. At the appropriate time a car would be waiting in the drive and he would quietly slip away.
The party would continue and he would be driven to the local facility where his life would be terminated – at precisely 9.43pm. He had been assured that the process would be both quick and painless. Once he was officially declared dead the authorities would allow a new baby to be born.
As the party at his house drew to an end, somewhere else in the city, another party would be beginning, welcoming the new arrival.
“What have you got for me Jenkins?”
“A body sir. Splattered all over the courtyard. A right mess. Appears he fell from that wall over there.”
“Body got a name?”
“Dumpty, sir. A Mr Humpty Dumpty. Seems he often sat up there. Liked watching the soldiers.”
“First indications are it wasn’t an accident, sir. Doc says he’s been shot. We’ll know more when the autopsy report comes through. There’s also a witness who says he saw a young girl walking away from the scene.”
“He couldn’t see her face, sir but says she was wearing a long red cloak with a hood.”
Red sat at the bar in the hotel lounge sipping a gin and tonic. She smiled as she thought about the day’s events. As planned, it had taken just the single shot. Mr Humpty Dumpty was dead long before his fragile body hit the ground.
“Mum says people who don’t chew their food properly come out in blotchy green spots, then their tummy explodes and they die!”
“Your mum’s daft, everybody knows that. Anyway, I’m hungry, I’ve not got time to waste chewing my dinner.”
“Well Jagar, don’t blame me when you get covered in spots.”
“Stop going on Leyla. Do you want some of this meat or not?”
Leyla felt like saying no, but she was hungry. They’d spent all morning tracking down this young human. She snatched the leg from Jagar and walked off to eat alone. Despite her hunger she remembered her mother’s warnings and chewed the meat slowly. As the blood dribbled down her chin she heard a noise behind her. Turning slowly she saw Jagar on the ground, covered in green spots with a large hole in his stomach. She returned to her meal and chewed even more vigorously.
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Peter Jenkins caught sight of himself in a shop window as he staggered down the busy High Street, he looked a mess. His suit was crumpled and his shoes scuffed and dirty. He hadn’t shaved in days and his normally well groomed hair was lank and greasy. When he arrived at the place he went in and made his way to the large reception desk. He knew people in the chairs around him were glancing up from their magazines and staring at him, he didn’t care.
“Hello Mr. Jenkins, back again?” said the pretty young girl behind the desk, “You seem to be coming quite a regular. What can I get you tonight? Your usual?”
Peter looked at her. The name badge on her ample chest said Zoe, he tried not to stare. “Not tonight, thank you,” he said, “I need to talk to someone. It’s urgent. I’ve got a bit of a problem.”
“Of course Mr. Jenkins,” said Zoe, gently pressing the bell just below the counter, “If you’d like to take a seat I’ll see who is free.”
Peter backed away from the counter and slumped into the nearest chair. The woman in the adjacent chair stared at him, then got up and moved to the other side of the room. Peter didn’t have the energy to take offence.
A few minutes later a young man walked in through a side door and called out his name. Peter got up and was led into a small consulting room.
“Good evening Mr. Jenkins, my name is Doctor Barratt, I’m one of the consultants here, what appears to be the problem?
“It’s the dreams, they’re stopping me from sleeping.”
“Oh dear Mr. Jenkins, that is unusual. We pride ourselves here at Dream Inc. on being able to supply our customers with just the right sort of dreams that will help them have a good night’s sleep. You have been following the instructions correctly, haven’t you?”
“It’s not the instructions, it’s the dreams. I think I’ve become addicted. I find myself plugging in the Dreams headset at all times of the day. It’s got that bad that I’ve lost my job and my wife has left me. I don’t even bother going to bed any more. I just sit in a chair, dreaming. I haven’t slept for weeks. What am I going to do?”
“Calm down Mr. Jenkins, calm down. We see this occasionally here at Dreams Inc. where someone has been overdosing on our material. You’ve done the right thing in telling us. Let me just check our records to see what exactly you have been purchasing. Ah yes, I think I can see the problem. Too many happy dreams Mr. Jenkins, that the problem, too many happy dreams.”
“I don’t understand. How can happy dreams have this sort of effect?”
“Happy dreams Mr. Jenkins, in moderation, are fine but you been having too many. It’s diminished your sense of reality. Your mind has got to the point where it can’t cope with real life any more and needs to be in a state of induced happiness.”
“So if I stop having these dreams, stop using the Dreams headset, everything will be OK?”
“If only it were that simple Mr. Jenkins. From what you have told me I’m not sure you would have the willpower to do that. No, I’m afraid the only solution is for you to be admitted to one of our dream units and have your mind realigned.”
“Realigned! What exactly does that entail?”
“Don’t be alarmed Mr. Jenkins, it sounds much worse than it actually is. We would simply start to wean you off your happiness high by replacing your present dreams with a few more unpleasant ones, the sort that reflect life as it really is. There will be times when you will feel that you can’t go on living but our specialist staff will be with you all the way.”
“I’ve no choice. I can’t go on like this. When can I start?”
“It looks like you’re in luck Mr. Jenkins. We’ve just had a cancellation and there is a spare bed in Wing 5, I can book you in straight away. Now what exactly is it that makes you feel unhappy, I mean really unhappy?”