“Last day, Gillman,” the guard said as he opened the cell. Neil grinned, hopped off his bunk, accompanied the guard to the replay room. Six weeks of a punishment reel wasn’t nearly as bad as everyone had said. And it was through today.
They plugged him into the chair, hooked up the nutrient feed, and then his world went black. And for the forty-second day in a row, he relived the life of Lonnie Manderay.
Oh, sure, the first couple days it had hit him hard. But after six weeks you can get used to anything if you know what’s comin’. And what’s more, Neil had found a problem with the little game being played. Nobody was all good, right, and yet Lonnie was comin’ off like a saint.
So Neil had killed the guy. Well, he hadn’t meant to. And he felt a little bad about it, sure. But if the old idiot had minded his business, ‘stead of jumpin’ in front of the manager, he’d still be around. And Neil wouldn’t mind watching six weeks of his old boss’s life, if it was done up honest. That had sorta been the point. Guy was an asshole. Be like a government-paid vacation.
For nearly seventeen hours, Neil sat through it all. Every good thing Lonnie had ever done, every good way he touched other people. And he mocked every minute of it.
There’s Boy Scout Lonnie, helpin’ his mom with a charity clothing drive. And then a loop from Ma, how proud she was of him. How sweet. And I bet he never stole one of the Sears catalogues just layin’ around, and took it in the back, and jacked off to it. Well, maybe he didn’t at that. Lotta silk nighties there too, ya know? Be proud of that one, Ma!
There’s College Lonnie, poppin’ the question. Yeah, he knew his number was up in three weeks. His deferments were through, Army had first claim on him. Another piece of meat for Vietnam. But he’s gonna risk breakin’ some girl’s heart when two uniforms show up at the door with a “Regret to inform you.” And the girl was dumb enough to think that it was the most romantic thing. Good thing for you he’s comin’ back, sweetheart.
“For gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States…” Oh, this was his favorite part. He could feel Lonnie beaming with pride as some general pinned the Silver Star on his chest. Saved the life of a teammate, braved enemy fire, killed three enemy combatants. See, that was the best part. Lonnie kills slant-eyes on purpose, he gets a medal. Neil kills Lonnie on accident, he gets the chair. The soldier Lonnie saves goes on to be some mid-manager somewhere. They become friends. Neil sees it all. Who gives a damn?
Then the rest. Kids, grandkids. Job, promotion, promotion, retirement. Work in the community (though never where Neil was, of course). And in all this time, you’re tellin’ me the guy never jacked off, or blew up at somebody, or even swore? All hail Saint Lonnie.
Well, here it came. Neil was in Lonnie’s body again. At the Orange Julius where Neil used to work until he’d been fired. He was getting used to seeing it from the customer’s perspective. Louise wanted him to get them both something with no sugar…doctor’s orders, you know. Well, screw the doctor. Lonnie had his eye on that raspberry smoothie, and his mouth was runnin’ wet. He’d survived Vietnam, he couldn’t survive some sugar? Almost made Neil like the old bastard.
He heard Louise shout. “Lonnie, look out!” Screams.
Neil turned with Lonnie, knowing what he’d see. Himself, makin’ a big speech. Then shooting at the manager. Lonnie jumping in front, feeling a quick burn and then nothing at all. And then bits from Louise, the kids, the little grandson who cries because Pappy won’t be there to take him to the zoo. (Like Neil ever got to go to the zoo. Little shit.) Then the guards would take him away, give him an hour’s walk, send him back to his cell. And tomorrow he’d be free.
But when he turned, he saw Lonnie where he should have been. Holding a gun.
That was new.
“Hello, Neil,” Lonnie said.
Neil felt his mouth dry. Lonnie’s was still moist. Weird feeling.
“This is the final part of your sentence. For some people, six weeks in the chair is enough. They learn how one stupid decision can affect the lives of hundreds of people. They learn the value of the life they took. And they get to go free…because they won’t do it again. But not you.”
Hey, what? This was his last day! The guard had said!
“You see, for people like you’ve proven to be, six weeks isn’t enough. You need more time to understand what you’ve done. But showing it to you again won’t work — if it had, you’d be cured by now. So for you, we arrange something…extra.
“I think you should feel exactly what I’m feeling right now. Goodbye, Neil.”
Lonnie pulled the trigger, and darkness descended.
Neil howled, but he had no voice. He wanted to hit something, but there was nothing to hit and he had nothing to hit with. He wanted to run, but he had no legs. Pure blackness. And the only thing left him to think about were Lonnie’s memories, and how he had reacted to them.
“How long’ll he stay there?” said the first guard.
“Don’t know,” the second replied. “Till he really feels bad, I guess. It’s up to him now.”
Let me know what you think of the story. If you like it, please feel free to forward the link to your friends! If it wasn’t to your taste, better luck tomorrow — a new piece of short fiction goes up every day.