Those That Would Eat Time
By Harman Burgess
I done it for money, like everyone else. Had my reasons: just lost my welding job, and I were behind on the mortgage. Last time I went to the bank, the manager told me I needed to cough up a helluva lot a cash, or they’d be forced to take action. So for me it were a necessity, one last throw of the bones. So I steeled my nerves. I went on down to Kronos Inc. And I sold my time.
The clinic I went to were a small one. Kronos Inc.’s got offices in skyscrapers across the globe, but this were one of its processing centres. I were shown to a waiting room.
The staff there was professional; they wore candy blue uniforms and teeth-whitened smiles. They was pretty, in the same manufactured way a chip packet’s pretty. The people waiting, on the other hand, was like me: desperate. Dressed in too-big track pants and greasy t-shirts.
“It won’t hurt,” one of the staff assured me.
“I ain’t worried ’bout that.”
“Do you have any worries, sir?”
“Only that yer won’t pay.”
“We always pay, sir. We look after our donors.”
I stared at the posters on the waiting room wall. Large, luscious spreads of happy people doin’ happy things. Warm. Goldeny. They said things like ‘Sell Now, Live Later!’ and ‘Skip To The Good Bits!’ and, my favourite: ‘You Have A Friend In Kronos Inc.’ But the poster’s true purpose weren’t to sell us anything, we’d already been bought. It were to reassure us we was making the right decision.
Eventually, a staffer showed me to a doctor’s office. I don’t know if the man waiting for me—in his latex gloves and green scrubs—were a doctor, but he looked like one. And his office looked like a doctor’s office. Cluttered. Busy. He took my blood, made me stretch, and shone a light in my eye.
“Do I pass?” I asked him.
“Gimme a sec,”—he tapped his computer— “Uh… yes! Was it the 5-year, the 10-year, or the 15-year plan you were after today?”
“10-year, $391976. I calculated last night.”
The doctor chewed his pen. “Based on your bank statements, that would be your annual salary for 10 years’ labour. But you’re unemployed now, your rates go down. Sorry. You’d only get about, um, two hundred grand.”
“About! For ten years of my life and it’s only about?”
“Sorry. $218341.82 to be precise. That OK?”
“I ain’t got a choice, do I?”
And the doctor smiled sadly and gave me a form to sign. I signed. And he took me out back, past the waiting room, to a ward– a white room with rows and rows of hospital beds. Most of ’em was full. I lay down on one as he fiddled with a tray.
“So I’ll put you to sleep,” said the doctor. “Then we wheel you out to The Machine. A big spinny thing, like that theme park ride. You know, the one where they spin you around real fast and then the floor drops out and you’re just hanging there? Pressed against the side? It’s like that, but a bit more sciency. We put you into that and extract some of your time. You’ll only be in for a few hours, but when we pull you out, you’ll be a decade older. Your hair will be whiter, your joints brittler, your mind slower. But you’ll still be you. And you’ll have your money. Questions?”
“What’ll yer do with my time? I know yer sell it on at exorbitant rates. Give it to politicians and other important people; keep ’em ticking along for a bit longer. Make ’em younger. What I want to know is: who’s getting mine?”
The doctor flicked a needle. Liquid spurted. “Your time will be going to a little girl with a heart condition. Delay a cataclysmic failure for the next decade. Give her time to grow up.”
“Bet yer say that to everyone, don’t ya? It’s goin’ to a rich dude, ain’t it?”
“Something like that.”
But before I could say anything else, he slid the needle into my arm.
And then it were all dark.
Uuuuugggggghhhh. My bones hurt. My head hurt. My everything hurt. Opened my eyes and saw blurriness. Gradually, the ward came into focus. I ran a hand through my hair. It felt thinner; some came out. They was grey. Is this how I’ll wake up now? I’m 42. Well, I’m only 32 temporally, but biologically I’m 42. I sat up in the hospital bed and looked around. There were a staffer there with a clipboard in her manicured hands.
“You alright, sir?”
“Bring me my phone.”
She went over to where my jeans was hanging, the side of my bed, and pulled out my iPhone. She handed it to me. Fingers fumbling, I unlocked it and scrolled through to my banking app. At least I can still use the damn thing. I ain’t that old yet. And there it is: $218341.82. Ten years of me. Enough to get the bank off my back and buy some breathing room while I find a new job– sell my time to someone else.
“I’m OK,” I said to her. “I think I’m going to be OK.”
And she looked like she believed me.
About the Author:
Harman studies psychology at the University of Newcastle. He has published over 25 short stories in various magazines and anthologies including in Flame Tree Press, After Dinner Conversation, and Cosmic Horror Monthly.
Also, he has a play in the works with a Sydney based theatre company.
He enjoys writing author bios as it is the only way to refer to oneself in the third person without sounding pompous or insane.