Epitaph, Incorporated

Epitaph, Incorporated

By Matthew Ross

Bonasera recognized the figure striding towards him almost instantly. At one time, Geoff Hobbs had been a movie star of some distinction, though a series of offscreen scandals had dimmed his reputation in recent years. The actor’s face, once renowned for its chiseled jawline, appeared gaunt, and his sunken cheeks were covered by several days of stubble. Bonasera felt a pang of sympathy for him. In his line of work, he rarely met clients at their best.

“Bonasera,” he said, offering his hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Hobbs. Circumstances being what they are, of course.”

The actor shook it weakly, then gestured towards a nearby patio table. Bonasera had barely settled into his seat when Hobbs blurted out, “So how does this work…I tell you how I want to go out, and you find someone to do the job? Contract a button-man to, y’know…make the hit?”

Bonasera sighed. He’d never understood why so many clients insisted on conducting business using such misapplied mafia jargon. Sternly, he said, “I will forget that you said that, Mr. Hobbs, only because it was not your intention to be deliberately insulting. I am an artist, sir, and will be treated accordingly. If you are looking for a goon to ‘whack’ you, our office would be happy to refer you elsewhere. Good day.”

“Please don’t go, I didn’t –” Hobbs sputtered. Bonasera allowed himself to be coaxed back into his chair, then retrieved a business card from his coat. He slid the card over to Hobbs, tapping it twice in quick succession.

Hobbs picked it up and squinted at it. It read:

M. Bonasera, Client Relations

Epitaph, Incorporated

“Why Leave Your Destiny Up To Fate?”

“Mr. Hobbs, do you want to know why my card includes our company’s motto: ‘Why Leave Your Destiny Up To Fate?’”

Hobbs nodded.

“It’s there as a reminder. Though our packages do include euthanasia services, we are not in the business of killing. What we are in the business of, Mr. Hobbs, is crafting legacies. I am a writer of endings, sir. Including yours, if you hire me.”

Hobbs swallowed nervously. “When you say you, uh, ‘write endings’…”

“I mean precisely what I say. Working together, we will identify the precise manner in which you desire your life to end—the story that your death will tell, and how that death will be presented to the world at large—and then my colleagues will execute that vision on your behalf.”

Hobbs flinched. “Forgive me,” Bonasera said. “A poor choice of words. Think of it this way: I provide a service not unlike one of your film crews. The subject of our little production? Your passing from this world. The director? Why you, of course. I would be the writer helping you to script your death scene, and my colleagues would handle all the details of its production.”

“And I’d be the director,” Hobbs mused.

“None other.”

“And you’re…good?”

“No, Mr. Hobbs. I am not ‘good,’” Bonasera said. “I am an artist.”

Hobbs nodded and turned the card over in his hands. “So I tell you how I want to go, and you just…make it happen?”

Bonasera nodded. “Precisely. Our lowest-level packages are aimed primarily at clients who wish to spare their families—and themselves—the trauma of a prolonged illness. After the client is euthanized—painlessly and humanely, of course—we’ll stage their passing so it will appear to have occurred from natural causes. Car accidents, heart attacks, that sort of thing. Internally, we call those our ‘Farm Upstate’ packages.”


“From there, we have your basic ‘hero’ packages, in which we’ll set up a heroic scenario, and our client will then selflessly sacrifice their life to save another’s. Rescuing small children from danger is popular—pushing them from the path of a runaway car, and what have you. Pets, too—people love a good animal rescue story. And from there, we can scale up your basic packages into more advanced ones, where you are limited only by your imagination…and your budget, of course. Some of our wealthier clients have dreamt up some truly memorable passings. They would be instantly recognizable to you if I weren’t contractually prohibited from mentioning them.”

“Really?” Hobbs said. “Like who?”

“My lips are sealed, I’m afraid. But think of any celebrity who has passed away in a particularly noteworthy manner in the past hundred years, and I promise you that a significant percentage of them were our clients. I am speaking more along the lines of Princess Di than Prince. NOT,” Bonasera quickly raised a cautionary finger, “that I am insinuating that those particular individuals happened to be clients of ours. But they could have been. Am I making myself clear?”

Hobbs blinked, then nodded. “Let’s say I wanted to do something…big. Something on the scale of a Princess Di. Are there any…restrictions I should be aware of?”

Though Bonasera smiled at him, his eyes remained ice cold. It was a smile that sent a shiver down Hobbs’ spine. “As I have already stated, our top-shelf packages are restricted by only two factors: our clients’ imaginations, and their available budget. Although perhaps I should say three factors, as some clients can get a bit…squeamish at the prospect of collateral damage. Others find that the loss of a few innocent bystanders greatly enhances the pathos of the passing they’ve chosen to enact—especially if they wish to leave this world as a hero. But I’ve often found that with enough money, one can move mountains.”

Hobbs licked his lips, then began drumming his fingers atop Bonasera’s card. “Well, it’s not like I can take it with me…” The sound of his fingertips tapping against the card grew louder as their tempo intensified. “If I kicked in everything I’ve got…just how big could we go with this thing?”

The ice in Bonasera’s eyes melted, and his smile grew warm once again. “Let’s take a look at a few pamphlets, shall we?”


About the Author:

Matthew Ross is a writer, editor, and English professor living in Los Angeles, CA. His fiction has previously appeared in Teleport Magazine, The Chamber, and Dark Fire Fiction,and is forthcoming in Literally Stories and Sci Phi Journal.

His nonfiction has appeared in a variety of places, including the Journal of American CultureStephen Crane StudiesSouthern CulturesWarscapesEclectica, and CBR.com.

Find him online @matthewrossphd

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