People freaked the day suicide became extinct. The chaos died down and withered to a fleeting whimper just within a year after the announcement of what they were calling “The Cure.” All of a sudden, things were normal again, almost as if suicide had never existed, as if negative feelings towards one’s self were never an issue. Suddenly, one needle in the arm could make you whole again, at least to the point where taking a mouthful of pills was no longer a viable option for escape. A gunshot to the head was no longer feasible. A noose taut around your neck was no longer achievable. No more depression. No more worthlessness. No more self-pity. Hell would have a little more space when sinners made their arrival; finally, a true gift from God. Then, the contagion appeared.
It wasn’t apparent at first. Suicides had dwindled to near single digits all over the earth. People were happier than they had ever been in centuries prior. Murders had abated, new deals and trades were fashioned amongst previously war-riddled countries, and populations skyrocketed all over the globe. Even some drug addicts lost their desire to abuse. Things were calm, at least for a while, until someone noticed the pattern.
Until first discovered in 2021 by a Dr. Roman Kowalski, contagicide was spoken only as an urban legend of sorts. With only a suicide here and a suicide there, people almost completely stopped paying attention. On May 14th, 2020, Mary Stowers of Ontario, Canada was discovered dead in the bathtub in her home by her husband Rick, wrists cut down to the bone. Five weeks later, the husband was found dead in his sealed garage, the car running, and the car windows open. People thought nothing of it until four months later, his neighbor, Renee, jumped in front of rush hour traffic. She had been the one to discover Rick in his garage. Approximately one month later, the drivers of the unlucky car to have struck Renee — honeymooners Bill and Amanda Hightower — were found by police diver Jared Smith, drowned in their vehicle in the Seattle Sound. A note was discovered sealed in the glove box, stating simply, “We both needed this.” It had been neatly signed by both deceased near the bottom of the page. The note had baffled police until Officer Smith shot himself in the head just two days later. This is when doctors and scientists took note, contagicide took form, and the world became scared again; God’s little gift turned God’s big joke.
Now, suicide is an event. It is followed and played out on the Suicide News that broadcasts on CNN for two hours a day. As of now, there are two active suicide watches on earth. One is an elderly Australian woman who had discovered her son dead in his home, hanging from a ceiling fan. The other is here in America, close to home. Too close. Back in Seattle, a man overdosed himself on sleeping pills and alcohol.
I knew that man. He was my neighbor.
— — -
I woke up to news cameras everywhere. Reporters were scattered around like ants on a kill. The problem was, the kill was real, which I discovered upon seeing the body, still splayed out in the gutter, uncovered so that the whole world could see. It was my first brush with death and the sight of it brought feelings to my stomach that I hadn’t known existed. I was unable to hold in my stomach’s contents from the night before, so I turned and ran behind my home to hide from the camera’s eyes, and released the acidic fluid. My bile matched the deceased’s, which lay next to him, full of the vodka and food we had shared just the night prior. He had sat two rows behind me in the dining hall, digging silently into his pasta with meat sauce. Ken, like me, had been one of the unlucky diseased, stricken with addiction before The Cure had come around. It carried over and stuck with us after we had been administered the shot. There were many like us still, who drank for the need of it and not for the want of it.
The Cure — too much too late, if you were to ask me. It’s all you hear said in meeting halls anymore.
After my stomach was clear of its contents, I walked back to my home and sat in my fold out chair to watch the circus from afar. Ken’s housemate, a Mister John North, was being interviewed, but from my viewpoint his words seemed automatic, almost as if they had been practiced. Even from here I could see that there was a new expression in his eyes — fear.
They had moved in just two days ago, I heard him say, after Ken had found the young girl’s body. I remembered it now, the girl from the news, found by an inebriate late at night in her liquor store. The gun from under her counter was still in her mouth. She had been one of those who had managed to slip under the radar, uncaught by the news or police. She lived out her last days in peace, just as it should be.
Not John though, not anymore.
His social status, history, and sexuality didn’t matter anymore, not to anyone. It is the only time in your life that these things can finally go unnoticed by the media. No one saw a homeless gay man from a failed marriage that had produced two daughters, which all fell apart the moment he came out of the closet. No, they only see a dead man, and wonder who’s next.
I grabbed a beer that had tipped over in my tent but was luckily still half full, thank God. The overpass above us seemed louder than normal; a continuous hum of cars that ran like drones plugged in and programmed to strive for the unrelenting pursuit of normalcy. They’re the lucky ones — jobs, families, happiness — yet so close to death, to contagicide, and they didn’t even know it.
I watched as John wrapped up the interview, no doubt relieved that it was over. The cameras wouldn’t stay for long, but would quickly return later today and possibly tomorrow to continue their watch. They didn’t want to be around when it happened, didn’t want to catch a live feed of the death, but would stay long enough to gather footage they can replay on their loops, just like those reruns of The Kardashian Kids that play over and over in the hall on Sundays. The only difference is those kids would stand the test of time. Their lives would be expanded by the fame, living on way past their allotted place on earth. North Kardashian-West would live forever; John North’s season finale would die with him, and along would come the world’s new obsession. The next episode. Just some new decaying victim turned worldly fad.
John wouldn’t be able to watch, only watch it coming. It was such a sad fate to befall a grieving man.
The cameras before me finally started to fade. It’s a low demand career, naturally. What if the suicide happened quickly or unexpectedly? What if everyone was there to witness? What if the world witnessed with them? How many would have to die for our obsession then? It would be no accident; I don’t believe in that. It was already no accident that the deaths had become a reason for us to exist, a sadistic fixation of sorts that symbolized our new reality, and a common interest that made the world feel so alive.
The largest event had been three months ago; some public suicide in a movie theater. The Avengers vs. The Justice League, they said, witnessed by nearly seventy others. Luckily, the death toll after the fact had diminished quickly, mainly due to whole-family suicides that had been discovered by single victims. Victims, we call them. Not even dead yet.
The beer was warm, but I guzzled it down anyway just to rid the disgust from my mouth. The taste faded, but the feeling in my gut remained. The police were gathering up the body now, heaving it into a trailer like spent trash down a compactor. There would be no investigation; the evidence was clear. All everyone would question is when, and whom.
John seemed like a good man, from what I’d gathered so far in my short time with him. Just yesterday he’d bought me this beer to get me well. We shared some vodka I’d bought before dinner, and then it was lights out for me. Now his partner was dead, leaving him just some shell of a man; an egg with no yolk.
I looked down to my hands, which had started to shake, then brought my attention back to the beer, now nearly gone. When I looked back up, John was walking towards me, face still blank from despair. The TV vans had vanished, and all that remained was the hum of the drones above.
“That’s it,” he said as he approached and sat on the curb. I shouldn’t be around this man, I thought. I need to move my tent. “That’s it,” he said again, a bit louder as the traffic above quickened. “That’s it for me. What the hell is a man to do now?”
I looked to my near empty can for inspiration, but through the dark opening, I saw no words of courage floating at the bottom; no liquid muse to spark my wisdom. All I could see were tiny bubbles of guilt and the backwash of sorrow that I knew The Cure could never abate, but which I still gladly swallowed. Yet the bottle remained, as always, half empty.
“What the hell now?” he went on, speaking strictly to the cold-shoulder of the morning air. “What’s a man to do with this type of burden? My best friend in life is dead, and I’m next. Such a burden. . .” His words trailed off as the wind caught his voice. Everything about John was stout — his legs, his height, his arms, even his fingers — all shortly plump and thick, as if he were stuffed from head to toe with cotton beneath his skin. I saw that his eyes sunk in deep, with his ruffled brown hair nearly down the cover them.
A burden, he had said. I had never thought of it as such. To know that you must die and take along someone with you would be such a curse. It was strange to hear such sorrow, but felt welcome nevertheless. The “Normies,” or normal people, of this world had become much too happy for my liking, while us “Degens,” or degenerates, as they called us, still played tug-o-war with our inner demons. It was a constant struggle never to be won. Who in their right mind enjoys such a game? And we wonder why they call us insane.
My battle of life on the street lines had put me in the trenches, leaving me to defend my purpose while viewing existence on both sides of the battlefield. People still came in all types, but were now mostly of the caring and loving variety. They gave generously, unknowingly supplying my daily plummet into nonexistence through a means that was too easily obtained. Living amongst other Degens was a welcome change to the monotony of it all. They were not so depressed as to make one feel unwelcome or unwanted in their presence, but just enough to make one feel a similarity of sorts; someone to share my paralleled emotions.
“What’s the use,” the dead man went on. “How does this shit even work? Do you know? Does anyone really know?” His voice was rising, and all I could do was face him and stare into his blank eyes. I wanted him to know I cared. “Do I choose how I do it?” he went on. “Or when? Or does it just, happen? Does God take over and put me in autopilot? Do you even know?” He spoke directly to me now, facing me with red eyes and teary cheeks. It was rare to hear such desolation and misery. In fact, I hadn’t heard it for years, not this bad, even within the community in which I chose to live. I hadn’t realized that such worries and strife still existed anymore. Nobody questioned God or existence anymore, not even the ultimate meaning of it all — of life. Not even me.
Drones, all of us. Such meaninglessness.
He looked for his answers within me, yet I had none. I searched for the previous night’s vodka, finally spotting it near my sleeping bag. A couple of drops were all that remained, which was not nearly enough to provide him or even myself with any sort of solutions. My teeth began to clatter in sync with my shaky palms, neither of which being a product of the chilled air. I glanced down the street to my left towards the Pike Place market — my stomping ground. My signing spot was the corner across the street from the human statue. If I didn’t claim it soon and earn some money, it would be lost for the day, and I would be lost in delusion for the night.
I looked back to John who had been reading my gaze towards the empty bottle and was answering it back with a pitying stare of his own. How dare he, I thought. Pity me? How dare he!
“How can you think of alcohol at a time like this?” he asked, and suddenly, I felt like the victim. “Don’t you see what’s happening?” He stood and waved his arms around like I was supposed to know exactly what he was referring to.
I saw nothing though, and wouldn’t satisfy his curiosity with an answer.
“There’s so much happening that’s greater than you or I,” he went on, still waving around like a madman. “But here we sit, you thinking of your next drink and me wondering what the hell is next.” He stopped a moment, looking completely lost in himself. Couldn’t he see how thirsty I was? “Go ahead, take your drink,” he said at last.
“Don’t you have anything to say?”
I didn’t. Not yet.
He gave up and sat back down. His head bowed down and tears dripped from his face. There was a fight going on inside of him and I could tell that he was losing. His shoulders were weighted like that of a man carrying the world. I could tell he had been strong once, able to carry whatever came his way, but not anymore. He drooped down lower and put his head into his hands, seemingly unable to even bear the burdens of gravity itself. I knew there was nothing I could do to ease his pain, yet I still felt compelled to do so. We were connected now, him and I. If not physically, then at least emotionally, to a degree, so, for him, suddenly I found my voice.
“I need a drink,” I said.
At that he laughed. It was the type of laugh that unexpectedly escapes your lips in a sputter; the type of laugh that once it begins, cannot be controlled. It was contagious, and I joined in with my own raucous merriment. There we sat, like two old friends stuck in the hilarity about days long past. We laughed and laughed until we cried, finally letting the damn depression cure win the war within us.
When we finally ran out of breathe and the jovial glee of the moment died down, I could feel the seriousness in the air flow back over us both. It was heavy and stank of sweat, lunacy, and death. We sat there, once again just two bums in a pressurized Utopia waiting to blow.
It seemed nearly silent until John finally spoke. “Can you do it?” he asked.
I knew what he meant but feigned ignorance. “Do what exactly?”
“You know,” he said, “can you do . . . it?”
Questions of my own swam through my mind: Is he really asking me to kill him? Could it be done? Would that count as suicide? Would I still be the witness?
Theoretically, I would be the perfect victim — no family, nothing to lose, no real goals in life at all. But there were morals involved, real emotional consequences for an action such as that. Was I really even thinking about what he was asking?
“No,” I said, “I couldn’t do such a thing.”
“Ah hell, I know,” he said. “I saw on the news one time that it’d been tried. It’s smart, really. It’d be the solution to this whole mess. But the guy that offed his own wife jumped off a skyscraper four days later. It’s unavoidable, this whole mess. No one really even knows if it was the contagicide or just plain old grief.” He looked off into the distance. “Goddamn unavoidable. . .” He trailed off and became silent until his eyes widened in remembrance. “Oh shit,” he exclaimed, “I nearly forgot!” He jogged off towards his tent and returned with a full bottle of Jim Beam whiskey. “Ken and I were saving this for a special occasion. . .” His voice faded off once again and I could see his watery eyes begin to flutter.
He handed off the bottle to me like it was a live grenade about to explode. The liquid was the color of caramel; sweet caramel gold.
I knew nothing better for this man than to get him into a drunken stupor before God led him to his dire fate, or at least drunk enough so that he would no longer be feeling the load which weighed him down. Plus, my shakes were becoming bothersome, and the anxiety they brought along with them was not a welcome feeling either. “Well,” I said, “let’s get drunk like there’s no tomorrow.”
“Hell,” John said, “there just might not be. So it sounds like a damn good plan to me.”
In my head, I knew I needed to be away from this man as soon as possible, but the craving for drink took over all logical thinking and decision making. Any sign of odd behavior and I would have to be out of there quick. We started drinking where we sat, taking direct swigs of the liquid caramel candy. The warmth eased my restless shivers and my hands were mine to control once again. ‘Drink like there’s no tomorrow,’ I’d said, because that’s a thing you say at a time like this. There really is no tomorrow until tomorrow comes, and even then, the whole day remains uncertain. Those thoughts were purely the Degen in me; I just couldn’t help it.
In a world of short-hands it’s what I’ve remained, just a lowlife Degen, so below the Normies who can’t even say the whole word anymore. A degenerative within a new-generation. But this is my world and I’ve accepted it.
We drank and clamored around like two village idiots in a school play. In an hour we were acting like old buds, rekindled in spirit by the liquid spirits. We hobbled around the streets merrily, speaking of old times, old opportunities, and the families that we missed. I’d never known a man who was set to die and yet seemed so happy to be alive. Perhaps it was just the alcohol, but it was refreshing nonetheless.
We travelled down to the pier to catch the remainder of the sunrise. People began to take notice of John, recognizing him from the news story just hours prior. Word spread quickly and soon we were receiving side glances from everyone that just happened to pass by. I began to hear whispers and the air seemed to grow dense, heavy with threats and talk of calling the authorities. How can you ostracize the ostracized? Contagicide, I suppose. That’s how.
We abandoned our post and headed further down the water line, receiving more and more honks and stares along the way. Our talk turned towards the spitefulness for people and their lame opinions. Commotions were being raised among the onlookers, not for our stumbling drunkenness but more so for John’s unwelcomed presence. No one wanted to be an accidental victim. No one wanted to be the next news story. No one wanted to see this man die.
I questioned my cause even further, belittling myself in my own self-conscious as my conscious-self drank away, leading me to a definitive unconsciousness. Nothing really mattered at the time, not the stares or the pointing fingers or the reappearing cameras that were being extra careful to keep their distance. What mattered to me was the man, John, who to me was still a man, not yet a victim; a human who — due to dumb luck — had become both a celebrity and an outcast at the same time.
He spoke to me of his life: his past family whom he had had always kept second to his drinking; his wife and kid who abandoned him when he went to prison; his late coming-of-age self when they had released him in his mid-thirties, newly out as a gay man, finally, and truly free. He spoke about his lost love Ken, the man who had inadvertently condemned him to die. The stories were all so bittersweet, and my drunk self didn’t know how to react but to just lend a listening ear. It seemed John had met Ken on the streets of Seattle after his release from incarceration, and, in his words, had saved him from himself. The dark city streets that always matched the gloomy skies had nearly swallowed him whole, leaving his empty soul in the shadow of his steps. Ken had brought sunlight to his days here, teaching him how to love again, both himself and others.
“It wasn’t only that I loved him,” John said, “but I needed him. Happiness found a new home in my heart when I was around him.” He stopped walking the pier and looked off to the sea, his eyes turning blue in its reflection. “Have you ever seen anything so fine, friend?”
I hadn’t, not until that exact moment. The man in front of me had become The Cure incarnate, blissful and content beyond repose, no longer a Degen in his own right. I had never seen anything so pure, so grown, and so ready to die.
“I’m just going to need one more sip,” he said to me shakily. I handed him the bottle, which he raised and toasted to the sun that now peeked out at him from the clouds. “To humanity,” he continued. “May it continue to be adaptable.” He took a long swig and sighed into the wind, then handed the bottle right back to me. I drank my share, capped it off, and stored it in my coat pocket.
With the sting still fresh on my lips, my new friend John turned to me and hugged me proper. The sun suddenly disappeared, and as he pulled away I saw that his eyes had now turned as grey as the bleak sky, dead to the world, and projecting God only knows what to his muddled brain. In one fluid motion he turned and hopped the rail into the cold Puget Sound. The splash was surprisingly quiet as I looked over to see him swim off into the distance without even so much as a glance back.
I stood there, stunned, unable to think on what had just happened, on what I had just witnessed, but a smile came to my quivering lips nonetheless. My mind sobered instantly as I watched my newly doomed friend disappear along the world’s curvature and become just a dot in the ocean. All I could think was that even through loss, John could still see the power in love, and had made his last moments in life count and as memorable as he could. His soul had been repaired with a treasury of memories and emotions, and I was glad that he had allowed me to share them along with him.
I took out the bottle he had left me and raised it to my eye line, covering the rippling waves before me that John had left in his wake. The caramel juice and the moving water melded to form a crystal ball of sorts. Looking through the glass to the sea, I knew I was viewing my future and the fate that had befallen me. Yet, at that moment, happiness warmed me to the juncture of merriment and serenity, leading me to laugh with glee.
I turned and saw the single green light of a far off live CNN TV camera, with the man’s eyes behind it wide with shock and fear, and the hilarity of the whole situation ensued. Oh, the whole earth was in for a treat. Such was the fate for a world bent on the obsession of reality. I began walking and laughed the whole way back to my tent.
Today, whether it is by fate or fortune, I’m still unsure, but the world sure is looking more and more beautiful by the day.
Have you ever seen anything so fine, friends?