Death Watch | by Ben Berman Ghan

“Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgment Day: We never asked to be born in the first place.”

― Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Timequake


     Everyone is going to die.

     And thank God, right? Life is a sack of shit anyway. Life is a miserable disappointment and we don’t deserve it. Everyone – you, me, the little old lady who you gave your seat to on the bus – we all deserve to die, because we are all fucking monsters.

     Don’t believe me? Okay fine. I can prove it.




     Last night I dreamed that I tortured and killed my mother-in-law with a hammer. I dreamed that I broke her down piece by piece, first smashing each of her fingers to bits, then her arms and legs, then each rib. Finally, when her screaming and crying and slobbering became too much, I bashed in her skull and chucked the corpse out the window. I waited until I heard the mangled body go splat on the pavement, then I unzipped my pants, and pissed out the window after her.

     My father-in-law arrives then, rushing into the room. “What are you doing?”, he asks me.

     “Dying,” I tell him.

     My father-in-law I don’t really hate so much, so my mind didn’t bother to conjure up anything as traditionally horrific. In the dream, I just shot him in the head. He gave up the ghost before hitting the floor.

     When I woke up in the morning, I found my wife watching me. She was smiling, and her fingers danced playfully across my chest. She asked what I was dreaming about, of course I told her I didn’t remember. She told me that it must have been a wonderful dream, because I’d looked so happy.

     So yes, I’m a fucking monster just like all of you, and I deserve to die. But at least in fairness to me and everyone else, I never asked to live anyway. Nobody did.




     We are not in love, my wife and I. There is no such thing as being in love. It is impossible for a human animal to love another. It’s barely possible for a human animal to even acknowledge that there is any other life forms at all outside our own individual consciousness. This is what makes us all so capable of being so unspeakably shitty to other people, because deep down, we don’t know that they’re people. All that we can ever really know is that outside of ourselves there are other objects that look similar to us, and move about and make noises.

     All we really know is that some of these objects make us feel good about ourselves, or bad about ourselves. When we see another person, we can’t prove that they are as real as we are. All our brains really see is an object that it can fuck, or kill, or eat. How could we possibly love someone? To love someone, you have to know them. And nobody can ever really know anybody else.




     I am a fucking monster. We all are, I know that. We can’t really love someone we don’t know. But we can hate something we don’t know. We can hate objects because they can make us feel bad about ourselves. I can’t love my wife, but I can hate my mother-in-law even though she is nothing more to me than an object. I can dream about torturing and killing another human animal because my brain doesn’t truly understand that they are even alive the same way I am.

     I cannot love anyone, but I can hurt, and hurt, and hate them. That isn’t even limited to objects that have made me personally feel bad about myself like my mother-in-law.

     I can prove that too. Do you want to know what I do for a living?

     I go out into the city and sell new-age experience drugs that ruin peoples lives. I sell drugs that alter moods and states of mind. I sell more complicated drugs or can be programmed to give specific experiences, that can alter memories or create new ones. These drugs, no matter their purpose, eventually destroy the brains and essential organs of those who use them. The oldest human animal I have ever sold a life destroying substance to was ninety-two years old. The youngest human animal I have ever sold drugs to was twelve.

     So yes, I sell life destroying substances to human animals of all circumstances, and I keep one hundred percent of the profit of destroying lives, feeling no worse than if I had only given drugs to objects that move around and carry money. But that is not the end of my crime, oh no.

     Do you want to know the other half of my job?

     While I am selling drugs to children, I am also on the lookout for people who might be selling drugs to children, who I then arrest and send to the courts who send them in turn to their deaths. I am an undercover police officer whose job it is to destroy the lives of those who profit from the sale of new-age experience drugs, and thanks to my cover I also sell and profit from the sale of new-age experience drugs.

     This is all perfectly legal, of course. It wasn’t even my idea. Nobody is really concerned if I annihilate the brain of a prepubescent child by giving them a substance that will turn their frontal lobe into rock, so long as I bring in people doing just the same. All anybody knows is that the arrest of the object they understand is a drug dealer makes them feel good about themselves, and the destruction of an object they pretend to understand is a child makes them feel nothing at all.

     After I’m done destroying people’s lives as a drug dealer and undercover police officer, I go home, and I kiss my wife on the cheek, and tell her that I love her. We eat dinner, maybe we watch a movie. We make love if we are in the mood, which is a tasteful way of saying I use the object that is my wife to assist in making myself feel good, and she uses the object that is her husband to assist in making herself feel good. I say goodnight, and she says goodnight. Maybe she reads a book on her side of the bed while I roll over and pretend to go to bed.

     See? We are all cold, self serving, heartless psychopathic monsters. Nobody really cares about anybody else. Life is a miserable sack of shit, and we all deserve to die for what we’ve done. The fact nobody asked for life in the first place is hardly an excuse, if you ask me.




     At breakfast, my wife checked another day on the calendar in red ink. It’s her grand countdown, a ritual she has honored every day for a year. She thinks she’s counting down the days until we can finally afford our honeymoon. There are only four months between now and when we will having a working credit between the two of us for a trip.

     But the joke was on her, because I was going to get off the suicide waitlist two weeks before that. That’s what I thought, anyway. My wife doesn’t know that I filed for suicide over two years ago. Nobody knows this, except me, and whichever shitty service worker has to keep track of my case.

     Three years to get off the waiting list to commit suicide. That’s the healthcare system, it’ll screw you every chance it gets

     If I were in a higher tax bracket, I understand I wouldn’t have to take quite so long for my request to come through. But sadly, for me, I couldn’t afford the coverage on both Express-Lane Self Annihilation and Dental. The rich can just slip a couple thousand credits over the counter, and then they can die with expediency in the lap of luxury. Bribery is illegal of course, but everybody knows they do it. What can anybody do about it? Put them to death?




     My wife doesn’t have any idea of my longstanding plan to leave the sack of shit that is living. I actually filed my suicide request when we started dating. It wasn’t my idea. Some mutual friend had set us up. I don’t remember who it was. Friends are hard for me to hold on to. I don’t know how anybody can hold onto friends, since nobody ever knows anyone else enough to decide if they like them. We can only know how these other fleshy objects make us feel. When I say that a person is my friend, I’m really just saying that this is a fleshy object that makes me feel good about myself. When I find another object that makes me feel better, or is closer or easier to hold onto, I forget about the older objects who used to be my friends.

     When I met the woman who is now my wife, I didn’t fall in love with her. Not because I am evil, or because she is unlovable, but just because loving someone is impossible. All I knew when we met was that she was an object I found inexplicably pleasing to look at, and made me feel good about myself. I wouldn’t have agreed to meet her if I hadn’t already put myself down on the waiting list for suicide.

     I’ve found, since I put my name on the waiting list, that I don’t usually mind doing whatever anyone else feels like doing. I knew, even though nobody else did, that my life wasn’t really my own anymore. I wasn’t going anywhere. I was just spinning my wheels.

     So I agreed to meet the woman whose name I was told beforehand was Stella. I found her dark skin and her soft voice attractive to me. For whatever reason, I seemed to make her feel good about herself too, even though I could never be anything more than an object to her. We got along well, or as well as anyone can get along with an object. Getting along is the best I can say about us. We didn’t really know each other.

     After eight months, we were living together. A year ago, I asked her to marry me. I decided really, it couldn’t hurt, since I wasn’t going to be sticking around on this planet long-term anyway.

     I don’t think we love each other. I know how abruptly our future is going to end. On the day that my name has finally come up at the top of the list, I’ll wake up, make breakfast, kiss her goodbye and say I’ll be late for dinner, and then I’ll take a shuttle to the free clinic at Spadina and Bloor above the Jewish Community Center, and end my life.

     But until then, we are at least objects to each other that make us feel good about ourselves. It is true. Most of the time, the object that I identify as my wife makes me feel happy. I tell her I love her, even though that is impossible, and she tells me she loves me back. I lie in bed with her, and work with her, and eat together. Sometimes I tell her jokes and I like the sound it makes when she laughs. Sometimes we make love, and sometimes we watch movies.

     I love movies, because I believe that a movie is when we are being the most honest of how we see everybody else. A movie is where we stop pretending that we don’t see everyone else as objects that are less real than ourselves.

     The only time the object that is the human animal of my wife does not make me happy, is when I am forcibly exposed to the additional, and far less pleasant objects of her family. If I hadn’t wanted to kill myself before meeting the object that is my wife’s mother, I bet my feelings would have changed. Sadly, A Licence to Kill is restricted, or maybe I would have opted for that instead.




     “What are you doing?” I asked.

     There are only fourteen days until I will be legally permitted to kill myself.

     There is an object in the small room where I sell the new-age drugs. I’m confused, because after I make a sale, objects never stay in the room with me. They always leave, to go share the destruction with others, or to go find somewhere quiet and alone to have their experience.

     The object looks up at me from the floor. She is sitting cross-legged. The little patch in her hand, like a sticker or a nicotine patch from before nicotine was eradicated. She has rolled up her left sleeve until just above the elbow, and has turned her palm up to face me. She smiles a little.

     “What are you doing?”, I ask again as the object slips the patch onto her arm, letting it melt into her skin, letting the chemicals race through her nervous system as her brain lights up like a Christmas tree, all of which I know is happening and none of which I can see. The patch she is taking is three times more powerful than her small body will be able to handle.

     “Dying”, says the object as her eyes begin to close. She is sixteen years old. I stood for a moment and watched as the chemicals began to overload her system. I watched as her breathing became ragged, and her body began to spasm. Her arms and legs jerked from side to side. It wasn’t a violent motion. It was soft, easily missed. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought she was dancing.

     Life is a miserable disappointment. I cannot begrudge the girl for wanting to leave it, even if dying as a result of drug overdose is not strictly speaking legal. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to die. Neither of us ever asked to live in the first place. So I don’t know why I did what I did.

     I leaned down, and peeled the patch from her arm. If I had acted differently, if I had only allowed the drug to do its work, the object that was a complete stranger to me would have died there on the floor, and I would have called a forensics team to come and collect the body, and would have continued my day as the undercover drug dealer. It has happened a hundred times before. Then I would have gotten to die much sooner.

     But I didn’t. I felt satisfaction as the spasms stopped, as her breathing returned. I noticed for the first time that she had brown hair.

     I looked down at the thin object in my hand. It looked very much like wrapping paper. It was small, and square, and see-through. I watched as the label in little red letters melted away into my skin.

            Dream, It said.

     I felt a sudden rush of joy, as I understood that this was to much for my body to handle, just as it was for the little girl, who was still somewhere out there, beyond my field of vision.

     I was going to die ahead of schedule.




     I find myself in another world, a better world. I am standing in the dark, and before me there is only endless nothingness, a black pool of water stretching out to infinity. Everything there was more real than the world in which I’d come from. It was more real than my dreams as well. I can see people off in the distance, and I know that they really are people. I can feel their minds pushing up against mine, and I can feel their feelings like a hum, like music. Some of their faces I recognise, and some I don’t.

     I can see my wife’s face in the crowd, and she is not an object. Here in my mind, she is finally as real as me. I feel the sensation of falling inside my heart. I know this is my nervous system being overloaded and shutting down. But I know too, that this is my final recognition of the human being I had promised to spend my time with. I know now in here, that I can love her. I can love everyone.

     I know everything about my small black world. I know here, there are no laws, no waiting lists. Here, nobody needs to feel bad about being a monster. A rope descends out of the sky, suspended from the nothingness. It is a noose with which to hang myself. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

     I have stepped up onto a stage without moving, standing above the heads of those below, forming a crowd. My brother looks up at me, just as he once did. The friends that I left behind, my teachers and torturers, the many people who I have destroyed with the very drugs now destroying me. I can see my wife’s parents, and I feel no desire to destroy them. In here, in this small world where people are real, it is impossible to hate anybody. It is impossible to hate someone, just as it is impossible to love an object.

     “What are you doing?”, they ask as I slip my head through the noose, through the knot of my escape from something I never asked for, from something everybody knows is such a terrible disappointment.

     “Dying!”, I cry, and I am so happy.





     “Life may be a disappointment, but it’s our disappointment.”

     That is what I am told in the hospital, where I am revived. I am told not by a therapist, or by a loved one. I am told not by my Captain, or my victims. It is the insurance representative who tells me this. These are the words that ring through my ears as it is explained to me that I was not covered for death by overdose, but by trying to die before my legally scheduled suicide, I have broken the law. He tells me that trying to die had saved my life. It was against the law for me to be dead at this time.

     Then I am told that this incident has added heavy premiums onto my coverage. I ask if I am still on the waiting list for self-annihilation. I am told that while I am still on the list, my early death has caused a penalty. I am told that now, I won’t come off the waiting list to commit suicide for another seventy two years. There are now over two thousand days before I am legally allowed to commit suicide. For the remainder of that time, it is illegal for me to die. The Insurance representative asks if I have any questions.

     I ask what happened to the girl who was in the room when I died.

     When my wife comes to see me, I am happy. She tells me she watched me in my sleep after I was revived and asked if I was dreaming. I tell her I was. She said it must have been a wonderful dream, because I had looked very happy in my sleep.

     “What were you doing?”, she asks me. She does not mean what I was I doing exposing myself to life-destroying substances in the company of drug addicts. “In the dream?”

     “Nothing”, I tell her.

     Then I tell her that I love her. She tells me she loves me too.

     We are both going to die. Thank goodness for that. We never asked to live anyway, but that’s a poor excuse.




Ben Berman Ghan is a writer from Toronto, Canada, who has been working on the Toronto literary scene since he was a teenager, with a focus on literary and speculative fiction. Ben currently studies English, Writing and Rhetoric, and Philosophy at the University of Toronto, where he is the Fiction Editor for one of the campus’s literary journals. 



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