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For Your Time

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and cat. Her fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and the Stoker Award-winning After Death.... She's a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her short story collection, One Revolution, is available on Amazon.com. Find her online at jamielackey.com.
The pamphlet arrives in your mailbox, sandwiched between the grocery store ads and the previous tenant's life insurance bill. The shiny, slick paper is thick between your fingers. Simple black letters on a dried-blood background say, "We Will Pay for your Time." Inside the explanation is long, scientific, boring. But the math is simple.
They will take thirty years of your life--not including weekends or holidays. They will take it in an instant, and pay you for the whole. They do not explain how. The pamphlet does not cover what they do with your time once they have it. But the number is more than you'd make in thirty years anyway. Enough to pay off your student loans, your car, your mortgage, with more than enough to live on, after. You can finally take that cruise that you've always dreamed of. You can quit your job.
You're already selling that time at work, anyway, right? And spending every minute of it miserable, wishing it was over.
You go and stand in line, behind a balding man in a suit, in front of a woman in a long cotton skirt who smells like patchouli. None of you speak. The line snakes around the block, and you all shuffle forward one step at a time.
Your palms sweat. You think of the money.
Once inside, a pretty technician smiles at you and hands you a form. It is shorter than you'd expect. There is no new information, only legal paraphrasing of the pamphlet, which you still have, folded and stuffed into your pocket.
You sign it.
You walk through another door, and a man dressed as a doctor shakes your hand. Is he a real doctor? There are no degrees on the white walls, and he doesn't tell you his name. "All you have to do is press your palm right here."
The machine is simple, sleek. White plastic with a black rectangle screen, smooth curves that look organic. It is smaller than you'd imagined.
You wonder if this whole thing is an elaborate practical joke.
"Does it hurt?" you ask.
The doctor shakes his head. "Not a bit."
You hold your hand over the panel, and your fingers tremble. Thirty years, gone in a moment. Thirty years that you won't experience. Not the agonizing, dragging moments, but not the in-between moments either.
Your hand drops to your side. "Did you do it?" you ask.
The doctor shakes his head. He taps his foot on the linoleum. "There is a bit of a line." You can tell that he is trying not to sound impatient.
The thought of the check, of financial freedom unlike any you could ever hope to know, looms large in your mind.
You remind yourself that it's not a full thirty years--without weekends and holidays, it's really just over twenty years.
"Would you do it?" you ask.
"It's perfectly safe," the doctor says.
"That's not what I asked."
The doctor sighs. "I don't know."
"How does it work?"
"It's proprietary. Look, I hate to rush you, but you can't stand here and dither all day."
You make your choice. Outside, the man in the suit sips tepid water from a thin paper cup. His thinning hair is gone, and there are lines on his face from expressions that he never saw. You're not sure you made the right decision.
But that's life. And you walk out the door to live it.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, January 20th, 2015


I hate second person, but I decided that I wanted to write a story in that point of view that actually had a reason to use it. I was also having a really rough month at work. This story is the result. I think it presents a tough choice--I'm still not sure which option I'd go for.

- Jamie Lackey

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