About the Authors
1 Noah Grabeel, Oregon – February 28, 2018
2 Jenna Glover, California – March 7, 2018
3 Gabriella Sayger, West Virginia – March 14, 2018
4 Jessy Knaus, Colorado – March 21, 2018
5 Nicole Massey-Smith, Colorado – March 28, 2018
6 Ashley Kilday, Texas – April 4, 2018
7 Suzie Bartholomew, Indiana – April 11, 2018
About Dually Noted
Dually Noted is TBL’s exciting group-writing project. New and established writers from around the world come together to create one ongoing story through weekly installments. If you would like to add the next section, shoot us your 500-word addition by Friday night. Our editor will publish the best submission at the beginning of each week.
No One on Earth Has Died for Three Years
by the TBL Writing Community
Life’s Net Worth
In an oak paneled hall, the opulent type where powerful men have gathered for centuries, only the wealthiest were still trying to figure out what to do about the fact that people had stopped dying for the past three years.
“Don’t look at me,” said a man who made his fortune selling guns and ammo. “You ever sold a war without dead people?”
War, famine, pestilence, and death. They were all MIA at a time when people expected an apocalypse. There wasn’t much complaining, but no one could explain why people had stopped dying: biological adaptation could have found the perfect immunity, others argued that machines were to blame. All across the world, gunshots were reported, but not an ounce of blood touched the pavement. Heiresses stewed. Assassins turned to knitting. Christians in particular were distraught now that their one avenue to be with their Lord and savior seemed permanently closed. This distress led to mass public suicides, but of course, their God did not notice.
Because no one died.
Gun sales were hit the hardest. Death was their one campaign strategy. Without death, what good was a gun?
Or food? What use were food stamps when no one died of starvation? Or clothes without hypothermia? Or expensive SUVs with no car accidents? Death made life worth something.
“Overpopulation,” blurted out a well-paid senator. “We hit that message hard. That they need to protect their homes, the very ground they’re standing on.”
“Protection from what?” A Trump child asked. “‘Share economy’ is all people are tweeting about.”
“Those resources, then,” the senator rallied. “We bring in the tree huggers, celebrity conservationists. Merchandise, PSA’s, endorsements. Get the pandas out there.”
They grumbled in unison about such a brilliant sounding plan, but studies would show a drastic decline in consumption over the next three years. Food had become an indulgence. People were less scared to live together and trusted one another more. Electric buses and cars were now group funded from the extra income people had without prescriptions, without surgery, without a morning avocado toast.
“This is our dominion, boys,” the ghost of Roger Ailes moaned from behind a portrait of Andrew Jackson. “We must protect what is ours.”
So what about the news story about the woman who walked from Tallahassee to Portland, just to take a walk around and see more of her own country and feel it with her own feet?
And what about the child bride from Guinea, who swam all the way to Iceland to escape a husband more than twice her age?
In that beautifully stained hall, talking points suffocated the musty air. Demand for answers were high. They argued over details about what the people would want and do, and since no one was dying, they agreed to keep the doors locked until someone came up with an acceptable solution.
There they stayed cloistered until someone happened across them three years later, still red-faced from the same debate. 1
To: The Immortal Known as Death
To: The Immortal Known as Death
From: The International Health and Wellness Organization
Subject: A Compromise
Most Estimable Death,
We have reviewed your list of complaints and subsequent explanations concerning your employment termination, and, as the formal representation for the human population of planet Earth, the International Health and Wellness Organization (I.H.W.O.) wishes to extend our deepest apologies that these matters were not dealt with in a timely manner.
We are pleased to inform you that the I.H.W.O has received and evaluated all the inquiries you have sent over the past 3 years and we are proud to negotiate and come to terms satisfying for all parties concerning your reinstatement.
As you are aware, Earth has suffered immensely in your absence. Resources have become scarce and those that are available are not affordable for all individuals on the global market. Furthermore, there have been instances of disagreement between certain parties that have led to violence most unbecoming of the human race.
We also hope that you can acknowledge the sincere intent behind our termination of your job and the benefits that many people have experienced, including, but not limited to, lower stress rates, a decrease in hospital/doctor visits, an increase in productivity, and an overall better quality of life rating.
The I.H.W.O. firmly believes that we can come to a reasonable compromise for this situation. To address the reasons behind your abrupt departure of duty, we offer the following:
- Letters of apology from world leaders on behalf of their citizens for any and all slander and derogatory language regarding your personage, heritage, and profession.
- An annual raise of 1 soul of your own determination and a Category 3 war every other century.
- Unsupervised vacation time of no more than 3 months every decade, to be approved ahead of time through the proper channels.
If you will permit us, the I.H.W.O. has some qualifiers of our own to reach an equitable agreement. They include the following:
- Immediate cessation of immortality for the human population.
- Contractual obligation to honor the agreement in the unlikely event you decide to take the lives of all I.H.W.O. employees and representatives.
- Morality clause indicating that, in order to stabilize population levels, you do not seek to take the souls of anyone who, at the time of immortality 3 years and 42 days ago, was below the age of 90.
We hope that we can come to an agreement soon for the sake of the world we both serve. Again, we offer our deepest apologies on behalf of the human race for our arrogance in assuming we could conquer and eliminate you on our own, or indeed that such elimination would be a beneficial solution to the problem at the present time.
Please contact us at your earliest convenience with your thoughts on our offer. We look forward to hearing from you.
President of the International Health and Wellness Organization
Mere Mortal 2
Til Death Do Us Part
I stabbed her, blood wrapping ribbons around her flesh. I stabbed her again and again, scraping bone like fabric against teeth. Her body shook, slumping to the ground, quickly losing warmth. She gasped for breath. The News played in the background. I threw the knife to the side, wiping blood on my jeans. My steaming coffee sat on the kitchen table. I grabbed it, gulping for relief.
I carried it back to the couch along with a second cup. I sat, sighing. I stared at the corpse then the TV, the anchorman reporting on five O’clock stories.
FIRE MELTS WOMAN’S SKIN, BUT NOT SMILE: “Thirty-five-year-old Maria Thompson escaped from a house fire. After a devastating loss, the community has come together to aid Maria in this hard time. If you would like to donate, a GoFundMe has been set up for her home, and skin replacement and reconstruction surgery. She may have lost her skin, but she can never lose her smile.” The picture flashed a human-like shape, the skin melted and burnt and eye gouged in a pit of red and black. White teeth flashed against charred flesh.
TRAIN LEAVES BOY HEADLESS, MOTHER THANKFUL: “Nine-year-old William Archer is at the hospital waiting for head reattachment surgery after tripping onto a train track. Mother, Michelle Archer, does not know how she lost sight of her son but is thankful that Willy escaped with only a little scratch.” A picture of a young boy popped up on the screen, laying on a hospital bed, head in lap, tears running down his cheeks. A woman gripped his shoulders, refusing to be removed from his side.
VOW RENEWAL “CUT” SHORT BY MACHETE: “Seventy-Year-old Ethel and Randall Rowland chose a sunny day to renew their vows. What they didn’t expect was rain in the guise of a large metal knife. Although their ceremony ended quickly, these re-“newly” weds hope for many more years of blissful marriage.” The elderly couple stood under a wedding arch, with the machete stuck handle-up from the man’s bald head. They smiled lovingly at each other.
Suddenly, spluttering and groaning sounded. I looked at my wife. The sound hit my eardrums with familiarity and comfort. Death was nowhere to be found. Life returned to Stella’s skin, which looked more vibrant and rosy. Her black hair and blue eyes were illuminated. She coughed, sitting up and grabbing her stomach and chest. Her beige sweater flapped around the stab wounds.
I held out the cup.
“We agreed that I get the next one,” she winced, taking the coffee. I stared at the news ticker.
“Happy Anniversary,” I said. She looked at the golden band glinting around her finger. I shook my head, nodding at the TV. We both eyed the bottom of the screen. The ticker read THREE YEARS SINCE DEATH DISAPPEARED.
Three years since we realized we would always be together.
Til Death do us part 3
Herold was a very nervous man.
He had always been that way, it hadn’t just started with the events of the last three years. But when people stopped dying, the riots started. Resources depleted, bricks sailed through windows, and Herold’s blood pressure skyrocketed.
At first, Herold was able to protect everything—his house, his possessions, his Mercedes in the detached garage, his sanity. His wife had died back when people still could, and only inanimate objects seemed to be worthy of Herold’s love ever since. Out in the country, he thought he and his things would be safe from looters and overpopulation. But, over the years, the city spread like a disease out to meet him.
It was harmless at first—people stole from his garden, his water tanks, his garage. Small things. But then, expensive things from his living room went missing; his biscuit tin stuffed with fifties disappeared. Each missing item clogged Herold’s arteries with a little more certainty of his impending doom. If he had to live forever, he felt he deserved to at least live comfortably.
One morning, Herold awoke to the sound of shattering glass and lumbered outside to find a pack of hoodlum teens hot-wiring the Mercedes. Herold shouted and brandished a golf club in one hand and a pistol in the other. He might not be able to kill anyone, but he could still deliver a good knee-capping. The gang ran off, but not before they slashed his tires for good measure. With Herold’s arthritic hands, the Mercedes was as good as stolen.
Herold spent the next three hours lying in his bedroom doing deep breathing exercises and popping aspirin. This was going to be a long eternity, he thought, being always on the brink of heart attack.
It was then when he decided something must be done.
Herold spent the rest of the day teetering in and out of the house, dumping armfuls of possessions in his garage around the Mercedes like offerings. By nightfall, he was standing in a nearly empty house, fingers aching, and sweating profusely. He stuck his fists on his wobbly hips and nodded curtly. The last three items he took from the house were a faded photo of him and his wife, a bottle of scotch, and a blow torch.
Whispering a farewell prayer, Herold anointed the garage door with the scotch. Then he set it irrevocably ablaze. He took a swig from what was left in the bottle and stepped back. Seventy-three years of belongings turned to ash and swirled up into the night like fireflies.
It was better, Herold decided, to spend eternity without any possessions than to live with a pistol in one hand and a bottle of aspirin in the other. He looked down at the photograph, then back up to the burning garage. For the first time in a long time, Herold relaxed into a deep breath, and smiled.4
I Can Give You More Than a Solution
I can give you BUSINESS. [cue dramatic spotlight] It’s a simple matter of prioritizing, and anyone would agree that children are and will always be our number one priority. To say otherwise would make you, well, a monster.
So it’s safe to say children come first regarding food, water, and living space. Next come their caretakers, immediate guardians, or parents. Then come the working class, those who actively make a more productive future and keep this world tick, tick, ticking. Last . . . comes the nonworkers, those who use resources without providing any sort of return—the smelly homeless, the lazy unemployed, the elderly who no longer have the decency to die. From there, it’s just a matter of logical distribution, giving the most resources to our number one priorities. Making sure our children have a brighter future.
You might be thinking, [spotlight on random audience member] “Sure Rodger, this makes sense with food and water, but with this growing world, how do we get more space?” Well, Nancy, we go to space. Or, more accurately, we send low priority individuals to space. Now, I know this sounds harsh, but we can make life in space desirable. We can turn it into a luxury. I present . . . ASTRO-CASKETS! [cue Broadway lights and jazz; Jessica and Raelynn roll in prototype wearing sexy uniforms]
It’s the designer way to live in space! For the right price you can customize your ASTRO-CASKET to fit your entertainment desires. Does your deadbeat uncle love music? He can drop some dead beats in his ASTRO-CASKET surround sound system. Does your arthritic grandmother want to watch The Sound of Music while smelling that sweet mountain air? We can set her ASTRO-CASKET up with a high definition screen and mountain-scented oxygen thanks to our partners in TeleSenses Entertainment. [Jessica and Raelynn roll off prototype] Thank you ladies. [dust glitter off jacket]
Don’t worry, I see your hand in the back row. You’re thinking, “But Rodger, people love their families. How could you suggest we separate them?” And . . . you’re quite right. There is nothing like family. Don’t worry, [wink] we thought of that, too. For a small upfront fee you can upgrade to the LOVERS ASTRO-CASKET! [cue backdrop curtains] Grandma and grandpa can now get cozy among the stars, infusing their new life in space with a sense of youthful romance and wonder!
Get these before they are going-going-gone! Send your loved ones away in the comfort they deserve and fulfill your part in preserving Earth for our children.
[Quickly scroll disclaimer] Individuals over the age of forty-five are subjected to Earth’s yearly Age Accommodation fee. These fees cannot be waived and are subject to interest as multiplied by the percentage of individual usefulness. Those who fail to pay will be immediately shipped to space in a non-luxury ASTRO-CASKET. Shipping fees will apply.
Thank you for coming, everyone! And remember, “Life in space is the best place!” 5
A New Reality
It’s been three years since death was suspended and I live in a strange hellscape.
I’ve watched zombie movies. Tons of ‘em. I loved them three years ago. Not anymore. Watching a fucking badass chainsaw his way through the evil dead was awesome. Walking into work and seeing fucking Gail with her “fatal” car accident written all over her face and having to act nonchalant is brutal. She’s missing most of the flesh on her upper arms because she got ejected from the car and skidded badly across forty lanes of traffic or whatever. She laughs about it as we eat together in the break room and tells me again how she fell asleep at the wheel and swerved into traffic and isn’t it a miracle how she and the other guy are still here. He’s missing a leg, but he can still drive cause it was his left leg that got sheared off. It’s not a miracle, Gail! I want to scream and shake her. It’s fucked up! You ought to be dead! I resent her for not being dead.
Come to think of it, lots of people should be dead. I see them daily; in the grocery store; as I walk my dog; in the cars next to me as I drive to work. People with gunshot wounds to their guts, some people with missing limbs, ugly purple and blue bruises, faces cut up from shattered glass. Even the friendly young couple at the end of the road carries the still-bleeding wounds from a mugging gone wrong. Except it didn’t go wrong, I guess, they’re still alive. The scent of death hangs around them, which means I don’t.
I hate walking by the hospital. You can hear the groans and screams of people suffering fresh mortal wounds even from the sidewalk. Death is no longer a merciful release from their pain. It will take time for the nerves to die enough so they can get back to “living.” Sometimes the nerves don’t die, I’ve heard, and the victim is put into a coma because sleep still functions like it always has. Instead of cancer research these days, the medical professions are looking for a solution to pain.
Could be me, I think calmly, as I ascend the ladder to clean out my gutters. I work around my house a lot to keep myself distracted from the abyss outside. The damn dog running around the backyard could cause me to fall off this ladder and break my back. Or my neck. I’d lay there, motionless. I’d probably never walk again. But I wouldn’t die. Would I pray for death? An exception to this new rule? I raise my eyes to the roofline to see the neighborhood feral cat as it hisses and yowls at me, threatening me with a strike from its claws. Instead of flailing, I feel strangely calm. I don’t fear death because it won’t come for me.
Death comes for no one anymore it seems.6
Death Takes a Much Needed Vacation
Ella never expected to have Death as a roommate, but then again, he didn’t exactly ask. Just said something about her family being indebted to him—or her? She wasn’t sure if Death had a gender—and took her spare room as his own.
The TV played in the background as Ella washed dishes.
“It was a great day for sightseers at Niagara Falls, as a new record for the amount of people going over the falls in a barrel was made earlier this afternoon. According to State Park officials, the previous record of one hundred in a single day was broken by today’s one hundred fifty,” the news anchor said with a blinding smile.
“In other news, a man was mugged on 81st Street, where he was stabbed multiple times. He is recovering at St. John’s Hospital and is cleared to leave in the morning. The victim argued for a stronger police presence in his neighborhood, stating, ‘I’m tired of having to go to the hospital all the time to get stitches after being mugged. They itch and I don’t have that many days left to take off from work.’ The police have yet to comment on this matter.” The news anchor offered an even bigger smile, though Ella thought it didn’t quite reach her eyes.
Ella sighed as she placed another dish on the drying rack. “Oh, I bet they have yet to comment. What can they say?”
A male form shuffled into the kitchen, yawning and scratching his head. “What’re we eating?”
Ella didn’t answer his question, instead pointing at the TV. “Did you see the news today?”
Death rolled his eyes. “Here we go again.”
“People are willingly climbing into barrels to break records at Niagara Falls. A man with multiple stab wounds is annoyed by how much they itch.” Ella waved her hands in the air. “Extreme sports have become more popular than football, possibly the most American sport ever, and no one seems to care if they fall and break something!”
“Are you done?” Death said.
“No.” Ella pressed her damp palms to her face.
“Too bad. I don’t care.” Death walked past her to fill the coffee pot. “I needed a break, so I took one.”
“For three years?” Ella pressed. She was tired of having a roommate that paid no rent and yet still expected dinner every night. “You can’t keep hiding out here!”
“Look,” Death said, pointing a finger at her. “I’ve not had a break in more than a millennia. I should have had one after the Black Death, but no.” He shook his head. “Budget cuts. Too expensive. Well, the higher ups are going to have to wait.”
Ella really hoped “higher ups” didn’t mean God.
“It’ll be fine,” Death said. “No one wants to die, anyway.” 7
Death is so integral to our world—what would happen if everyone suddenly stopped dying? This collection explores all the possibilities spurred by a world without death. So, tell us your 500-word stories in this setting! Feel free to borrow characters and locations from other installments. Your section can stand alone or build on what came before. Send us your submissions by Friday for consideration!
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